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Handful of ND law enforcement agencies turning to body cameras

Though still a relatively scarce practice in North Dakota, a handful of law enforcement agencies have turned to the use of body cameras on their officers as a means of recording daily tasks.

Though still a relatively scarce practice in North Dakota, a handful of law enforcement agencies have turned to the use of body cameras on their officers as a means of recording daily tasks.

The cameras come in different makes, but are essentially gadgets that clip on the front of a uniform or vest and record when needed.

The most local example is the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, which last year approached the county commission for funds to update their models.

Travis Collins, the Adams County Sheriff, stated in an email that his office decided to upgrade its cameras because of their reduced lifespan and lack of ruggedness.

He said the use of dashboard cameras in vehicles had proven very useful in the profession for matters, such as evidence collection and protecting against false claims of misconduct.

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From that, Collins said he believes body cameras follow “progression with the advancement of technologies that continues to help meet our goals to provide the communities the best service.”

His agency is in the minority, so far, when it comes to the gadget’s use in the state.

West Fargo Police Chief Mike Reitan, who is also the president of the North Dakota Peace Officers Association, said the only other law enforcement agencies he knows of using body cameras are the Devils Lake Police Department and the Grand Forks Police Department, the latter of which implemented them at the beginning of this year.

Public information officers for both the Dickinson Police Department and the Stark County Sheriff’s Office said their agencies don’t use body cameras.

Dickinson Police Capt. Dave Wilkie said his agency has had discussions about them in the past.

However, Wilkie said the department’s tactical team uses them on tasks.

A spokesperson for the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department said the agency does not employ body cameras either.

Though the state Peace Officers Association has never itself discussed the topic of body cameras, Reitan said it was brought up at a previous meeting of the North Dakota Police Chiefs Association.

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“During the last (legislative) session, I had brought forth a bill to make recordings that occur within a private area to be exempt records,” Reitan said.

He said the bill, which passed the state Legislature, exempts material recorded in sensitive places such as a health care facility, or inside a business where trade secrets might be exposed.

Reitan noted that “exempt” material only means that an agency is not required to release it, as opposed to confidential material which legally cannot be released.

Originally, the bill only pertained to law enforcement, but Reitan said it also came to include fire departments that use personnel cameras on assignment after the North Dakota Fire Chiefs Association made a request

By his estimation, Reitan said the cameras can cost between $300 and $750 per unit.

He said a bigger cost to consider, however, is the technology that stores the data that the cameras capture, the length of time of which can vary.

Aside from the uses listed by Collins, Reitan said the cameras can also serve as a means of self-review for officers. Video can be used to point out safety issues or behavior that needs to be corrected, which can prove useful in officer training.

Ultimately, he said, their usage remains an agency-by-agency choice.

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“It’s an individual decision,” Reitan said.

Related Topics: POLICE
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