By MARINA WATERS
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office is on its way to possible funding for body and vehicle cameras.
WCSO Sheriff Ed Graybeal and WCSO Chief Deputy Leighta Laitinen presented the request to the Washington County Budget Committee at the Wednesday, April 11, meeting for $548,420 for 111 wearable cameras and 80 patrol car dash cameras.
Graybeal said that while some officers in Washington County have body cameras, it’s important that his officers are equally equipped from both a safety and legal standpoint.
“The court system doesn’t understand that (one officer) has a camera but (another officer) doesn’t have one,” Graybeal said. “If you talk to attorneys who go to court all the time, they’re going to tell you that’s a huge liability. Us being accredited, one of our accreditation standards is everybody has to be uniformed the same. And this is a safety measure that if you don’t go to court on a for $4 million or $5 million dollar lawsuit, this camera saves you money right there.”
The request called for 111 wearable Wi-Fi enabled cameras and 80 patrol car retrofits with Wi-Fi and GPS enabled dash cameras and Wi-Fi enabled transfer stations.
Graybeal also said the equipment could help better ensure the security at local schools.
“A lot of schools, their radios don’t always work in some areas of the school, so we want them to have this body camera so everybody knows what went on,” Graybeal said. “It’s a real safety issue for the schools and the schools’ resource officers. And I think it would deter a lot of issues having these marked cars in front of the schools and you have a uniformed, post-certified full-time police officer sitting there. It works.”
Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge echoed Graybeal’s liability concerns while also adding that consistency in equipping all officers is a needed focus. Eldridge said the county’s insurance provider told the county mayor that consistency is key in equipping officers with this type of technology.
“He said we, Washington County, are at the point where we need to be consistent and either provide them this for all officers or for no officers,” Eldridge said. “One or the other because it’s getting to be a challenge in court if we aren’t consistent with what we do.”
The resolution for the equipment will be considered by the full commission at their next meeting on Monday, April 23, at 6 p.m. in Courtroom 7 at the George Jaynes Justice Center, which is located at 108 W Jackson Blvd #1210, Jonesborough.
While the WCSO got the go ahead from the budget committee, the school system’s request for funds to re-brick the Gray Elementary School building was put on hold for Washington County Department of Education Maintenance Supervisor Phillip Patrick to check for the most cost-efficient option for the project.
Patrick said the $300,000 project was included in the five-year capital projects improvement plan, but that a recent in-depth look at the building upped the price to $575,000. Patrick also said the BOE’s facility committee would be meeting to discuss and consider options for the project.
The next meeting of the school board’s facilities committee has not yet been scheduled.