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April 11, 2021

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Clark County Sheriff’s Office could begin using body-worn cameras later this year

Officials: Program would cost $1M a year in staff, equipment

By , Columbian county government and small cities reporter
Published:

A body-worn and dash camera program for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office could begin with a phased approach later this year.

The Clark County Council held a work session Wednesday morning that included representatives from the sheriff’s office, county Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Superior and District court staff and other county staff. Meeting participants supported the idea of the program while acknowledging fiscal challenges.

The sheriff’s office recently submitted a request to add $896,439 to this year’s budget, beginning July 1.

Funding would cover an initial purchase of 150 body-worn cameras and dash cameras on patrol vehicles. Five new employees would handle additional public disclosure requirements and management of data and equipment.

While the sheriff’s office plans to search for vendors and expects to develop more detailed cost estimates as the program begins, the office estimates future annual costs for the program to be more than $1 million annually.

On Wednesday, the sheriff’s office outlined a plan to roll the program out in stages.

Potentially by late this summer, one-third of deputies and patrol cars would be outfitted with the cameras. Another third would follow early next year before the program is, eventually, fully implemented.

Councilors said they will continue discussing the program but didn’t make any other decisions or set a specific date to continue the conversation. Chief Civil Deputy Kari Schulz said that, once the program is approved, beginning the first phase of the program could take up to six months.

‘Valuable tool’

Chief Criminal Deputy Sheriff John Horch noted that there will likely be some flaws with such a program but that “everybody in law enforcement at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office is in favor of a body cam program.”

“We’ve seen several incidents over the last few years where there were body cams present and there was still controversy over what happened, so I think everyone understands that it’s not an end all, but it does help, and we are in favor of it,” Horch said.

Horch added that the cameras are “a valuable tool for several reasons.”

“It gives it a different picture of what occurred, audio and visual,” Horch said. “It helps the prosecutor’s office, and helps litigation on false claims on different things, and it also shows the officers conduct.”

The discussion touched on the additional requirements, based on a review of a program in Seattle, needed to handle public records requests for video of law enforcement activities.

“Right now we have basically people that make public records act requests universally, every week for great amounts of information,” Councilor Gary Medvigy said. “That’s the real elephant in the room, and the Legislature needs to deal with that issue.”

Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik said he would likely request an additional $573,000 for his office’s 2022 budget and $544,000 in 2023. Golik said that he would hire more deputy prosecutors to review video during court cases.

“It’s just a lot more to look at on every case,” Golik said.

A similar cost increase would be needed for the county’s contracted indigent defense attorneys.

Still, the video, which in several cases might provide more clear evidence, could save the county money in lengthy civil court cases.

“It protects both the law enforcement officer as well as any person that might be stopped or have any interaction with a law enforcement officer,” Council Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien said Tuesday during a CVTV interview.

Columbian county government and small cities reporter
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