In response to a recent string of Vancouver police shootings, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office says it’s a proponent of body-worn cameras but acknowledges implementing them wouldn’t be easy or cheap.
On Tuesday, Undersheriff Mike Cooke sent an email to the Clark County Council stating that the agency is “very much in favor of body-worn cameras for law enforcement.” Community discussions regarding police body-worn cameras prompted the email, Cooke wrote.
Over the last couple of years, the sheriff’s office has met with body-worn camera vendors and found the “technology is sound and that a body-worn program is feasible.” However, the agency faces obstacles with funding and how to handle public records requests for video, Cooke said in the email, which he shared with The Columbian on Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, a camera program would come with significant costs. We have estimated that the public records requests alone would require an additional (five full-time employees) in our public disclosure unit,” Cooke wrote. “This is because every video request would require a search of the stored video, a review for redactions, video editing to properly make the redactions, publishing the final release, and then storing the released footage consistent with the state’s retention policies.”
Cooke said the agency’s public disclosure unit manager has received estimates that it would consume 30 to 60 minutes of staff time for every minute of video requested.
The agency also has to consider costs of the cameras, supporting hardware and server requirements for storage. Cooke said the sheriff’s office could save money by choosing a vendor that offers cloud storage, but it would still need to invest in local server storage because of video retention requirements.
“The other requirements we would have to address would be policies governing the use of the cameras, which would include issues with employee privacy (breaks, bathroom, other personal issues). We would definitely need to meet with the affected bargaining units,” Cooke wrote.
He said the sheriff’s office would implement a body-worn camera if ongoing funding was available. In a follow up email with The Columbian, Cooke said the agency would not submit a budget request for a body-worn camera program unless the council first confirmed it wanted to fund it.
“We’ve been asked to prepare budget cut scenarios of 1 (percent), 3 (percent) and 5 (percent) for next year’s budget. Even at 1 (percent) we would be looking at layoffs,” Cooke wrote to The Columbian. “If the money was there, we would jump at the chance to add body-worn cameras.”
Councilor Temple Lentz, who’s inquired about the sheriff’s office’s use-of-force policies, said in a phone interview Wednesday that to her knowledge, no residents have recently contacted the county council about body-worn cameras. But she said she’s aware that residents have spoken before the Vancouver City Council on the issue.
“I think it’s definitely worth looking into,” she said of a body-worn camera program for the sheriff’s office. “The concerns about complications, I do believe are valid, largely in terms of protection of privacy and data management.”
Lentz said that if the county were to consider body-worn cameras, it should first know all of the risks, costs and benefits.
“There are so many benefits to recording interactions (between police and residents), and I don’t want to overlook that,” Lentz said. “But to pursue a body-worn camera policy, we should be sure we’ve really exhausted all possible resources for the protections we would need in that policy, and (look at) ways to use recordings from the cameras for future trainings.”