By MARINA WATERS
The Washington County Sheriff’s Department is another step closer to equipping the department’s officers and patrol cars with high tech video recording devices.
The Washington County Commission unanimously approved the WCSO’s $548,420 request for 111 wearable “body” cameras and 80 patrol car dash cameras at the commission’s Monday, April 23 meeting. The wearable, Wi-Fi enabled cameras are priced at $1,240 each, the Wi-Fi and GPS enabled dash cameras are $5,044 each and the Wi-Fi enabled transfer stations are $7,260.
For the department, the public safety equipment provides an update to the technology currently being used by the county’s officers.
“Right now, we have a mixture of some (cameras) we’ve been testing out to determine what works best and some were the best we had available at the time,” WCSO Director of Administrative Services Rick Hawkins said. “But with all the advancements in technology, (the new equipment) is better and it’s backed up by better software. This is a much, much better solution.”
WCSO Chief Deputy Leighta Laitinen said the requested technology wirelessly downloads the camera footage as soon as an officer returns to office. Laitinen said, the department has had issues battling the battery life on their current equipment.
“The system we have now uses an SD (secure digital) card. If that (camera) goes dead before he gets back to the office and can download it, he loses all his video,” Laitinen said. “So if an officer’s had a long day or forgot to charge it that night — and it never fails, that’s when something bad will happen, when you’ve forgotten to charge the camera.”
Washington County Attorney Tom Seeley added that the equipment could also be useful in any sort of litigation involving the sheriff’s department.
“We have two cases right now where our case would be a lot stronger if we had had this type of body camera,” Seeley said. “This is something that’s critical for us to be able to effectively defend the sheriff’s department and the county in this type of litigation.”
But county officials agreed it’s not enough to only have some of the equipment; Laitinen said making sure every officer is equipped with the new technology was key from both a safety and legal standpoint.
“We have some officers who have them, some who don’t and some have them and they don’t work,” Laitinen said. “Every time (after an officer -involved shooting has taken place) the attorney who calls says, ‘I need a copy of your video.’ And I have to say, ‘Well, (the officer’s) camera wasn’t working.’ And they’re like, ‘Sure their camera wasn’t working.’”
“The liability has gotten to the point in the department that everyone needs to carry them or we need to do away with them all together because it increases our liability.”
The sheriff’s department also expressed that legal protection wasn’t the only major component of the equipment. While WCSO Patrol Deputy Chris Shepherd showcased the current wearable camera system in comparison to the new camera system during the meeting, Laitinen added that in considering requesting the new technology, the department consulted their deputies on the matter.
“(The officers) wear it everyday, they’re the ones out there on the streets. So we asked them, ‘Do you want these? Or do you not want these?’ And they hands-down want them because it protects them and it proves that they’re doing their job and they’re doing it correctly. They have nothing to hide.”