Jan 15, 2015

Why don't local deputies have body cameras?

Park County Sheriff’s deputies would wear body cameras if cost wasn’t such a factor, the sheriff says.

Body cameras — small devices worn on an officers’ shirt, vest or glasses that record video and audio of all actions — have become a national issue in light of some police shootings during 2014.

At least one Wyoming law enforcement agency, the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office, wears the devices. Campbell County obtained 52 of the devices through a $46,000 federal grant and deputies have been wearing them since April.

“The reality is that if this can help show that they are consistently doing things the right way, then I see it as a good thing,” said Campbell County Sheriff’s Capt. Roy Seeman.

Park County Sheriff Scott Steward said cost is his sole consideration.

“The purchase of such technology can also be cost-prohibitive especially for smaller agencies,” Steward said late last year. “And while there are federal dollars available, the current initiative under President Obama is targeted for larger metropolitan agencies. And even if the Park County Sheriff’s Office were to qualify for grant monies, we must consider that these dollars are for the initial purchase only. Necessary infrastructure, subsequent maintenance, and replacements are left up to the agency which means an additional burden on the taxpayers.”

Sheriff Scott Steward
The sheriff said he does feel body cameras can play a useful role for law enforcement staffers as well as the people they serve.

“I believe they not only protect the officer from unjustified complaints, but also might prevent actions on the part of the officer that may be inappropriate or contrary to department policy,” Steward said. “They also provide additional evidence that can be used in subsequent trials or at the very least, enhance the documentation of criminal investigations.”

“The cameras also provide enhanced opportunities for training and self-evaluation on proper tactics,” he said. “However, we must also be aware that video from body cameras do not always tell the whole story due to the narrow field of view and sometimes lack of audio. The videos may also be edited and content taken out of context for the sake of sensationalism.”

Steward said he doesn’t feel his department needs the cameras to protect people who interact with his deputies but he will re-evaluate his position if there seems to be a need for them.

“Currently I feel our patrol deputies perform their required duties with the utmost professionalism and courtesy,” he said. “Our department has not experienced an overabundance of complaints against our personnel and I am confident in their continued adherence to departmental policies and regulations. Therefore, I am not convinced that body cameras are necessary for our deputies at this time.”

~By Tom Lawrence, with Associated Press contributions


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