These days as many people point their smart phones to record everyday incidents, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department is beginning to arm its officers with their own hands-free video cameras.

Five of the department’s 18 patrol deputies have been trained and outfitted with the body-worn cameras, which they attach to the placket of their uniform shirt and are expected to turn on to record all enforcement actions, such as arrests and citations.

“We implemented the cameras in an effort to limit liability, to resolve citizen complaints, to use as a training tool and to complement the officer’s written report,” said Sheriff Nancy Hove.

Supervisors hope the deputies make it second nature to turn on the camera for each traffic stop or public contact that could be confrontational, said Chief Deputy Jason Matthys: “It could be the one video that saves a major lawsuit.”

According to department policy, recording enforcement contact should be the rule and not the exception.

“The videos will help supplement and complement the written report,” said Matthys. While a written description may be accurate, a video can give a better sense of the magnitude of the incident, he said.

Matthys, who started with the department as a dispatcher/jailer in 2000, said the department used cameras mounted on squad cars in the 1990s, but the technology wasn’t that good and the system didn’t work well. He said squad-mounted cameras automatically recorded over tapes, were expensive and weren’t useful if the incident scene was away from the car. The man who was sheriff then decided to discontinue their use.

Since then, said Matthys, “Our calls for service have become a bit more dynamic, dangerous.” He attributed some of that to increased use of illicit drugs.

Implementing the system was economical because the department has had the 12-terabyte server it uses since 2005, said Matthys. County IT staff created a link from a PC to the server to download footage for storage.

Software came with the cameras, each of which cost about $800.

Once the decision was made to buy the cameras, supervisors selected five deputies who would use them and had those officers try different models to see which they liked.

Collectively they chose the Vievu, said Matthys, and began using the body-worn cameras in spring 2013.

For more please read the Jan. 22 print edition of the Pierce County Herald or the Jan. 23 print edition of the River Falls Journal. 

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