The Stark County Sheriff’s Office have agreed, with Stark County Commission approval, to enter into a $383,000, five-year contract, with body worn cameras which will also include dash cameras for all deputy vehicles. Sheriff Corey Lee said he hopes to have the new cameras in operation on patrols by the spring of 2022. As part of the deal, Utility guaranteed its renewal rate would not be more than 110% of the initial contract price.
Many departments across the nation have moved to body cameras in an effort to protect the public and officers during contact with the public, but privacy concerns about the body cameras have persisted with many departments. Lee said that his deputies were reassured by the knowledge that the devices can be manually deactivated when the officer is not on a call. Lt. Jesse Hoff said the deputies weren’t worried about the cameras recording their interactions with the public, but rather with personal matters such as having a phone conversation with a spouse or using the restroom.
“Now here’s where it gets automatic. Say there’s a fight at a bar here in Dickinson, when dispatch enters that call and sends our deputies to it there’s a program that kind of bridges the gap between our dispatching software and the camera software,” Hoff said. “It goes in and recognizes... It's a fight. It’s at this address and it’s going to pop up a perimeter or a bubble around that address. That bubble we can set it to a half mile, mile, 2 miles, whatever. Whenever one of our deputies enters that bubble or that perimeter, their camera starts recording and they can’t turn it off until they’ve cleared that call, until that call is done.”
The cameras are also activated by an officer laying flat on the ground for more than 10 seconds.
“This camera from this company has saved deputies’ lives who’ve had heart attacks on duty and they were just off by themselves searching a backyard or something, and nobody knew they had flatlined,” he said.
For the most part, members of law enforcement are calm and professional, Hoff said. Yet, he realizes the cameras may reveal deputies in the heat of the moment and can be used as a great tool for remedial training.
“You look at the reason for body cameras: protecting deputies from false accusations, but then protecting the public from officer malfeasance or malperformance,” Hoff said. “If that’s one of those things you’re going to say while you’re chasing after guys, ‘When I catch up with him I’m really going to give it to him.’ Maybe that should be on body camera and people should know about it.”
Hoff pointed to examples of jurisdictions that have been forced to settle lawsuits that may have been unwarranted because it was too difficult to prove the officer’s innocence.
“Even around here we’ve heard it once or twice, ‘Oh that’s not mine. You guys planted that there.’ No, we don’t carry around drugs and stuff. So the camera, it’s a good way to show everything,” he said.
Body worn cameras are made by a company that’s owned by Motorola. The devices are essentially stripped down smartphone cameras with many of the same GPS and LTE capabilities. These cameras are equipped with specially engineered motion sensors and shoot high quality footage, at a minimum of 1080 pixels and up to 4,000 pixels. Hoff noted that because the interview room, dash and body cameras will operate on the same cloud based system, this will make the evidence gathering process easier and more efficient.
"It’s also more secure and less likely to fall off in action than other cameras," Lee said.
Hoff highlighted how the files are immune from tampering.
“If you have an encounter where, say you did violate someone’s rights or something, and you smash that camera… it’s in the cloud and you can’t get it out of there,” he said, adding that the camera is securely snapped and embedded into the deputy’s clothing so that all that can be seen of the camera is the lens.
Hoff remarked that in the officer involved death of Atlanta man Rayshard Brooks, the body cameras of both officers fell on the ground during a struggle in which Brooks grabbed one of their tasers. Charges against Garrett Rolfe, the officer who shot Brooks, were ultimately dropped and the City of Atlanta was forced to give Rolfe his job back. If those body cameras hadn’t fallen off, Rolfe’s innocence would have been easier to prove and there likely would have been less public indignation.
“They were wearing body cameras that should’ve captured it all, but they didn’t because they were laying on the pavement,” Hoff said.
Hoff noted that Utility is the only brand of police body cameras endorsed by the NAACP, primarily because the footage cannot be destroyed or manipulated by the law enforcement officer wearing it. Lee said he was content with the ability of the camera to remain attached in the event of a scuffle or incident.