High-tech body cameras for sheriff's deputies

Robert Houk • Apr 12, 2018 at 8:52 AM

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office is buying the most advanced body and dashboard cameras available for its deputies. The Washington County Budget Committee voted Wednesday to recommend the County Commission amend the county’s capital plan to cover the $548,420 needed for the purchase.

WCSO Chief Deputy Leighta Laitinen said the plan is to buy 111 body cameras — at a cost of $1,240 each — for all patrol deputies and school resource officers. In addition, the Sheriff’s Office will also retrofit 80 patrol cars with dash cameras at a cost of $5,044 each. The cameras are part of an integrated high-tech system developed by Texas-based WatchGuard, an industry leader in body and dash cameras for law enforcement.

WCSO Deputy Chris Shepherd told Budget Committee members Wednesday both the new cameras would become operational as soon as he activates his patrol car’s sirens and lights. He said other features include a 30-second backup on the video that could help in proving “probable cause” and a system that provides an automatic download of camera video to a secure server.

Laitinen said the new cameras are a great improvement over current cameras used by deputies, which she says are unreliable and cumbersome to operate. She said the WCSO has decided that it should either have dependable body cameras for every deputy, or abolish the use of body cameras altogether.

“We’ve got two officer-involved shooting cases in litigation now,” Laitinen said. “They weren’t wearing a body camera, or the one they had wasn’t working.”

“A half-million is a lot of money, but we will likely spend that amount on defending two officer shootings.”

Sheriff Ed Graybeal told commissioners his office was one of the first law enforcement agencies in the region to use body cameras, which he said must be issued to qualify for top accreditation.

“With the technology today the first thing the attorneys ask is if we have video,” the sheriff said.

Laitinen said WCSO deputies are all in favor of wearing reliable body cameras. She said county law enforcement officers believe the devices help protect both them and the public they serve.

The full County Commission will vote on the body camera purchase at its meeting on April 23.

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