Thursday, May 13, 2021
May 13, 2021

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Clark County Council to weigh body-cam program

Councilors will discuss nearly $900,000 request on Wednesday

By , Columbian county government and small cities reporter
Published:

A tentative plan by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office to begin purchasing body-worn and dash cameras will get its first airing this week before the body that will ultimately have to pay for them.

The sheriff’s office submitted a request to add $896,439 to this year’s budget to begin building the program over the next few months, according to the county manager’s office.

The Clark County Council will discuss the request with other elected officials and staff during a work session on Wednesday.

The funding would cover an initial purchase of 150 body-worn cameras and dash cameras on patrol vehicles, according to the request. It would also create five new staff positions to handle additional public disclosure requirements and management of data and equipment.

The request notes July 1 as a program start date.

The sheriff’s office plans to search for vendors and expects to develop more detailed cost estimates. But the office estimates future annual costs for the program to be between $1 million and $1.1 million annually.

In a statement attached to the request, Sheriff Chuck Atkins wrote that he was “excited and encouraged” that the council asked his office to submit the request.

“I know that this comes at a tough time but believe that we have no choice but to move forward with such a request,” Atkins wrote. “We have talked about openness and transparency, and this action will show that we are not just all talk. There will be many moving parts to this program, but know that we at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office are dedicated to doing it right and will move this program forward as fast as reasonably possible.”

Pressure building

Public pressure has been building for several years to implement law enforcement camera programs locally.

During the county’s two most recent annual budget cycles, the sheriff’s office submitted requests to “begin planning for $700,000 … to implement a body-cam program.”

“This is not an appropriation request as much as an anticipation of public and or legal circumstances that would lead the county to need to implement a body-worn camera program, perhaps on short-notice,” county budget documents read.

“Recent events of police use of force, including deadly officer-involved shootings, have led to inquiries from community members in (Southwest) Washington about the need for body-worn cameras. The primary public interest to-date has been directed at (the Vancouver Police Department).”

Since then, pressure has intensified following two recent shooting deaths of Black men – 21-year-old Kevin Peterson Jr. and 30-year old Jenoah Donald – by sheriff’s deputies.

Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik and other elected officials have called for the program this year. Councilor Gary Medvigy, who chairs the Clark County Law and Justice Council, said in February that there was “movement” on the issue.

Following a request by the Vancouver City Council to hasten implementation of a similar program, the Vancouver Police Department is aiming for a spring 2022 rollout. The city budgeted for the program in the 2021-2022 biennial spending plan, and the department is in the process of identifying vendors, crafting department policy for the program and hiring staff.

Work session set

The county council’s work session on Wednesday also include representatives from the sheriff’s office, prosecuting attorney’s office, county clerk’s office, District and Superior courts and other county staff.

“This sounds important and like something we’d better do,” Councilor Karen Bowerman during a council time meeting last week in response to County Manager Kathleen Otto’s request for the session.

The camera programs discussion will be the second of two work sessions for the council that begin at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Those wishing to listen can call 408-418-9388, access code 187 111 0931.

Following the session, the council could make a decision about whether to implement the program during a public hearing in the next few weeks.

Columbian county government and small cities reporter
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