After years of waiting, Rice County Sheriff’s deputies are getting acclimated to their new body worn cameras and despite some technical glitches, they seem to be well received thus far.
The Sheriff’s department got county board approval to purchase the cameras last year, after several years of lobbying from Sheriff Troy Dunn. Ironically, the pandemic helped to reduce some costs by using federal funds intended to help local governments with COVID-19 related expenses.
In Rice County, Faribault’s Police Department led the way with body cameras, purchasing them two years ago. Since then, the cameras appear to have worked well, with a recently completed audit showing strong compliance and no major issues.
The Sheriff’s Department is hoping to build off of the successes and learning from the issues of existing programs. As some departments have been caught in extremely expensive contracts for storage, the county is moving to set up its own storage system.
However, Deputy Matthew Slinger noted that there have been issues getting the new body cameras to “sync” with their squad cars’ dash cams.
That’s even though the county purchased its body cameras from WatchGuard, the same company which furnished the dash cams. In addition, the Sheriff’s Office has had to deal with some cameras that just haven’t worked. While the county purchased 50 cameras, more than enough for all of its officers, the issues have been widespread enough that not all officers have been able to wear a camera yet.
Slinger’s has been successfully synced with his vehicle, so the camera comes on when he activates his squad car’s lights, though it can be turned on manually as well. This system is designed to eliminate the vast majority of cases in which an officer forgets to turn on a camera.
Once all footage potentially relevant for evidentiary purposes has been captured by the camera, it can be turned off manually either in the car or by pressing a button on the camera. Once the body camera is shut off, the squad camera will automatically shut off with it. After the recording ends, the officer must document which type of incident was filmed. Low-key incidents like a traffic warning may be saved for just a handful of days, while more consequential situations like a driving while impaired infraction would be saved for much longer.
Slinger said that the body cameras will be particularly helpful in cases where the dashcam would normally offer little insight. For example, an officer’s response to a domestic assault would traditionally be recorded using only audio, since they would need to leave their vehicle.
To handle the data, the Rice County Sheriff’s Department is hiring a part-time staffer. Sheriff Troy Dunn has said the hire would have been required even if the county had opted to outsource storage to a third party.
In addition to staffing costs, the new program will cost about $10,000 in annual maintenance. That’s in addition to the upfront costs of $83,000 for the cameras themselves and $50,000 for storage.
So far, Slinger has had a positive experience with his body camera. While no one has commented on the camera’s presence while he’s been on the job, based on his conversations with the public about the program, he believes many welcome the extra “peace of mind.”
“This is designed number one, to preserve evidence but also number two, to protect us,” he said. “At the end of the day when you do your job well, this will show people that we’re a really good department with a lot of really good officers.”