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May 11, 2021

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Gearing up for body-worn cameras in Clark County

County’s two largest law enforcement agencies close to buying systems; learning lessons from elsewhere

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Clark County’s two largest law enforcement agencies close to buying systems; learning lessons from elsewhere

As Clark County’s two largest law enforcement agencies inch closer to purchasing body-worn cameras for their officers and deputies, departments elsewhere reported that, for the most part, they did not experience cost overruns or major issues when establishing their programs.

The particulars of the programs to be implemented at the Vancouver Police Department and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office are still being determined.

The sheriff’s office appears closer to having something in place than Vancouver police. A body-worn and dash camera program for the sheriff’s office could begin with a phased approach as early as later this year.

During a Clark County Council work session on March 31 — which included representatives from the sheriff’s office, county Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Superior and District court staff — most 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.

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

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

The Vancouver Police Department wrote on the city’s website in late March that it was moving forward with the next steps to have a program in place by spring 2022, deploying body-worn, dash and in-car cameras.

VPD said it is developing a request for proposals for vendors that can provide equipment, training and other needed features to support a camera program. According to the department, the Vancouver City Council adopted a biennial budget to fund the efforts. The $1.3 billion budget passed in November allocates $58.5 million for operation and administration of the police department in 2021-22, an increase of about $3 million over the previous biennium. Officials have not reported how much of that money will go toward implementing cameras.

Pacific Northwest agencies already using cameras

The purchase and implementation of cameras at other agencies took a year or more.

At the Spokane Police Department, which employs nearly 310 officers, it took 15 months for body-worn cameras to be fully deployed in January 2016, said public information officer John O’Brien.

The Northeast Washington agency entered into a $2.3 million, five-year contract with the vendor Axon, formerly known as Taser. The department pays Axon close to $460,000 annually, O’Brien said.

There were no cost overruns during the implementation process, the officer said. All items were provided through the vendor, other than internet services with a local provider, he said. Almost everything else apparently went well during the implementation.

“The vendor we chose took care of all the hard work, so the process was relatively easy,” O’Brien said.

Spokane police trained in use of force and how to effectively use the cameras. O’Brien did not detail that training or its length. He said there have been minor adjustments to the policies surrounding the use of cameras, such as when to record and when not to record. For example, state law currently requires law enforcement to read a person’s Miranda rights with the cameras rolling.

Farther south but closer to Vancouver, the Oregon City Police Department’s body-worn cameras have been in place since 2012.

“It was an officer who came to us and asked to start carrying one,” said Oregon City Police Chief Jim Band.

The chief said his department’s body-worn cameras cost about $1,000 each; he did not give specifics on associated costs such as training, or video storage, other than to say it “can be expensive, too.” The city’s budget for fiscal year 2019-21 is $248.3 million, according to online documents. The police department is the primary focus of the city’s discretionary resources, with $24.1 million coming from the general fund and an additional $1.6 million in an equipment-replacement reserve for vehicles.

Oregon City’s camera program is voluntary. In a department of fewer than 50 sworn officers, there are about a dozen officers who use the cameras.

“It does take some work to charge the cameras and manage the data and videos,” Band said. “It is one more thing for an officer to wear, and they already have a ton of equipment on them — that is why some officers do not like them. Making them mandatory would certainly make it more expensive, for obvious reasons. We provide them for any officer who wants to wear them, so the users are obviously the officers who are happy to have them on.”

The biggest issue during implementation was simply the unknown, according to the police chief. He was required to assess whether his department needed an extra employee to manage public records requests, as many other agencies do. For Band’s police department, it hasn’t been an issue, he said.

Nevada law enforcement’s cameras required by law

Law enforcement officers in Nevada are required to use body cameras as a result of Senate Bill 176, which was passed during the state’s 2017 Legislative session. The Washoe County, Nev., Sheriff’s Office was already looking into implementing a program when lawmakers decided to make it mandatory, said spokeswoman Sarah Johns.

“We decided to wait until state legislation implemented any laws before we implemented the system, in case there were more mandates, requirements or changes,” Johns said. “Eventually, a law was implemented that required all officers who have public contact to wear (cameras). Plus, the law allowed local governments the ability to use 911 taxes to pay for the (body-worn camera) system.”

Clark County agencies have not proposed additional taxation as a way to pay for their potential camera programs.

Washoe County, population 471,000 and home to the city of Reno, had 125 deputies working in its “operations” bureau and employed another 218 deputies in its corrections bureau in 2020, according to an annual report. All of those deputies are equipped with cameras, Johns said. The corrections deputies were recently equipped with the devices, she noted.

County records say the estimated cost for Washoe deputies’ cameras for fiscal years 2020-23 is about $1.04 million. That total includes money for a contract with Axon, internet services and “other costs.”

The Nevada sheriff’s office said the implementation of the camera program went smoothly, “generally speaking.” It recommended that other like-sized agencies identify staff needed to support a program. It has become an ancillary duty for several staff members at the sheriff’s office, but it could easily be a full-time job for one or possibly two people, Johns said.

Additionally, she said, “The key to success is making sure your data infrastructure can support the body-worn camera system. Our vehicles and body-worn cameras automatically download when deputies are close to the station. You need to make sure the data infrastructure can support the system.”

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