law enforcement body-worn camera

A Sheridan Police Department officer prepares to turn on a body-worn camera on duty Thursday, April 16, 2020. Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office looks to implement the hardware in the near future.

SHERIDAN — Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office staff plan to update vehicle camera systems with new hardware cohesive with body camera use and current Spillman reporting systems used by deputies, pending approval from Sheridan County commissioners and potential other financial contributions.

SCSO last updated video equipment in 2009 and currently uses the same system that product creators projected a lifespan of five years. Many of the software elements used with the system are out of date and no longer come with technical support options. Thus, Sheriff Allen Thompson said he and staff are looking at updating equipment to reflect similar technological trends seen throughout law enforcement and updates desired and preferred by other agencies working with law enforcement.

“It’s now standard, it seems across the nation and across the state, a lot of law enforcement agencies are going to what’s an integrated, in-car camera system with a body-worn camera,” SCSO Lt. Levi Dominguez said. “It’s an all-inclusive package where you get the in-car camera system and the body-worn camera, and they’re integrated.”

Integrated means both the in-car and body-worn camera systems will turn on when lights of a patrol vehicle are initiated for a traffic stop.

Sheridan Police Department began the research process in 2017 and implemented equipment in spring 2018. At the time, Thompson was already tuned into the conversation and hoped to learn from SPD’s experience. SCSO staff is currently considering two systems: WatchGuard, which SPD uses, and Digital Ally. WatchGuard, although more expensive, syncs with Spillman Technologies, Inc. — the platform used by both SCSO and SPD for report writing and record keeping.

Updates are necessary but expensive, and SCSO staff recognize both issues.

“The server and the software we use for the in-car camera system is, I don’t want to say failing at this point, but it’s not being supported. So, anytime we have any issues with that, it takes quite a while to resolve,” Dominguez said. “At any moment, that could fail, along with the server, and we would be out an in-car camera system.”

Agencies working with law enforcement now expect updated technology when bringing a case into a courtroom.

“As in-car camera systems evolved and developed, prosecutors, defense attorneys, jurors, they all wanted that in-car camera system,” Dominguez said. “And now as law enforcement is progressing even further, that body-worn camera system is another question that’s always being asked.

“Not only does it help with prosecutions and to get cases, it also protects our law enforcement officers, our deputies, if there’s any complaints coming up.”

Dominguez said the in-car camera systems capture some of the calls, but calls inside buildings or households only include audio. Having body-worn camera systems could document calls away from patrol vehicles.

Cost estimates range from $88,000 to $125,000 for hardware and software, not including installation fees. The only grant Dominguez found that he said coincides with a rural area is one from the U.S. Department of Justice and only helps pay for body-worn cameras and not in-car system replacements, which bear the majority of the expense. Body-worn cameras account for around $600 per camera; there are 17 SCSO patrol deputies. The rural-focused grant is also a long way out from potentially being granted to SCSO if they were to apply.

Similar to SPD’s process before implementing the entire body-worn camera and in-car systems, SCSO will receive test hardware from both companies to trial and consider pros and cons before purchasing. Both companies offer leasing packaging options and Dominguez said, in response to questions from commissioners, SCSO could first install the in-car systems and purchase body-worn cameras later when potential grant monies were available. The ask to update the system is on the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

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