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Sheriff: Body cams not high on priority list

Analysis suggests devices are worthwhile

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
Published: August 18, 2019, 6:15am

While the Vancouver Police Department looks into what it would take to implement a body-worn camera program, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office has already completed a cost-benefit analysis.

The takeaway? A body-worn camera program would be costly but a worthwhile investment.

“This wasn’t exhaustive research into what it is that we would be doing here, this was more of an opportunity … to see roughly what something like this would cost for planning purposes,” Sheriff Chuck Atkins told the Clark County Council at a presentation Wednesday. “But I’ll be honest with you, I have no problem with body-worn camera programs myself, but it isn’t high on my priority of budget items. And so, this isn’t something that I’m presenting it right now expecting you to make a decision in this budget cycle to try to implement.

“This is driven by our desire to preplan, get this information on the radar screen, because you know we could have a big incident tomorrow that our community does want to try body-worn cameras immediately or our state legislators decide that the state will have body-worn cameras. Hopefully, this will help us to jump-start that process and be kind of ready if that were to happen,” he said.

Use-of-force incidents and police body-worn cameras have been hot topics of discussion in other parts of the state and country, Atkins said. Those discussions are also happening here, following four officer-involved shootings by Vancouver police earlier this year.

So when an intern became available through Portland State University’s Hatfield School of Government Fellowship Program, the sheriff’s office wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to explore a body-worn camera program.

Jean Dahlquist conducted the analysis, looking at departments in Spokane, Seattle, Grant County, Las Vegas and Parker, Colo., that use body-worn cameras, as well as three camera brands: Visual Labs, Reveal and Axon.

She found a body-worn camera program “comes close if not exceeding the cost it takes to run it,” and recommended the sheriff’s office invest in one.

Estimated one-time program costs — which includes cameras, video storage, added features and initial training costs — could range from $224,398 to $337,708. Estimated annual costs could range from $174,188 to $276,128. However, the sheriff’s office could recoup an estimated $73,500 from redaction fees, $62,000 from a reduction in complaints and $253,743.75 to $608,925 from a reduction in use-of-force incidents, Dahlquist said.

In conducting the analysis, Dahlquist found the sheriff’s office would need at least 150 body cameras for its patrol and patrol-ready deputies. She recommended the sheriff’s office hire an additional sergeant to oversee the program, an IT person and a staff member to handle public records requests.

‘Big Brother’

Dahlquist said there were perceived concerns among deputies that a body-worn camera program could become like “Big Brother.” The sheriff’s office also expressed concerns about cost, added work flow, stress on the training schedule and targeted harassment. However, deputies also believe camera footage would exonerate them in false complaints.

After implementing a body-worn camera program, Las Vegas saw a 66 percent reduction in citizen complaints and 16.5 percent reduction in use-of-force incidents; Spokane saw a 78 percent reduction in citizen complaints and 39 percent reduction in use-of-force incidents.

Between 2013-2018, the sheriff’s office averaged 1.4 incidents of deadly force per year. On average, every one of three years, an incident resulted in a settlement. In that time frame, Clark County paid out $900,000 in one settlement. Dahlquist was unable to obtain information on a second settlement. The national average wrongful death settlement amount is $1.2 million, Dahlquist said. Body cameras offer a risk reduction of $400,000 per year, she added.

Though county councilors asked a number of questions about the projected costs, technology and public disclosures process, no decisions were reached Wednesday. Atkins said the desired next step is continued conversation.

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