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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Clark County Council gives go-ahead for body-worn and dash camera program

Implementation will depend on funding but could begin as soon as late summer

By Jack Heffernan, Columbian county government and small cities reporter
Published: April 20, 2021, 8:38pm

The Clark County Council has approved a body-worn and dash camera program for the county Sheriff’s Office.

The council unanimously approved the program during a public hearing Tuesday night as a package included in a spring supplemental budget. Earlier this year, the sheriff’s office submitted a request to add $896,439 to this year’s budget for a program that would start July 1.

The county is still working to secure funding for the program. But the decision Tuesday marked an official thumbs-up to work toward implementing the program as county officials continue to search for revenue sources.

“Given that this is a priority, we are working diligently to determine revenue options for the council’s consideration,” County Manager Kathleen Otto said.

Once funding is secured, the program would cover an initial purchase of 150 body-worn cameras and dash cameras on patrol vehicles, according to the sheriff’s office. The county would hire five new employees to handle additional public disclosure requirements and management of data and equipment.

While specific equipment vendors have not been identified, the sheriff’s office estimates future annual costs for the program to be more than $1 million annually.

Sheriff Chuck Atkins told the council that it’s important to move the program forward, but he stressed that the county will need to first establish an adequate public records process for it. Atkins added that his office already receives up to 600 records requests each month and that handling video requests is time-consuming.

“Those things have to be in place before we ever push the button on the camera. Otherwise, we will be looking at a high liability issue in terms of not being able to meet a public disclosure request,” Atkins said. “When this camera program goes into place, with our liberal (Washington) Public Records Act, people are going to be wanting, just, loads of this information.”

The council has held work sessions this year with representatives from the sheriff’s office, county Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Superior and District Court staff and other county staff.

During one of the sessions, the sheriff’s office outlined a plan to roll the program out in stages.

As soon as later this summer, one-third of deputies and patrol cars would be outfitted with the cameras. Early next year, another third would follow before the program is implemented entirely.

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

The county’s contracted indigent defense attorneys would need a similar budget increase.

Public pressure to implement such a program had been building for years, and the sheriff’s office asked the county in the most recent two annual budget cycles to begin planning for it. Pressure has intensified in recent months following two recent shooting deaths of Black men — 21-year-old Kevin Peterson Jr. and 30-year old Jenoah Donald — by sheriff’s deputies.

“We’ve had a number of discussions over the last year about the use of body-worn cameras, and it’s something that our community has requested,” Councilor Temple Lentz said. “I think these cameras are a tool that our sheriff’s office and our community do need.”

Columbian county government and small cities reporter