Sheriff’s deputies to wear body cameras after county council approves funding

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By the end of March 2021, all Whatcom County sheriff’s deputies will be wearing body cameras while on patrol, according to undersheriff Doug Chadwick.

Whatcom County Council approved the purchase of 78 body cameras and subsequent funding for cloud storage and technical assurance plans needed to run the program for five years.

The sheriff’s office is purchasing 78 cameras from Axon Enterprise, Inc. for 65 patrol-based deputies, Chadwick said in a council finance and administrative services committee meeting. This provides spares, as well as cameras for detectives and non-uniformed deputies to use while working in the field, acting as patrol or interacting with the public.

“The plan is to have all field units wearing body-worn cameras,” Chadwick said.

The total cost of the body camera program for five years is $381,437. If the sheriff’s office wish to continue the program after five years, Chadwick said it’s $66,591 per year..

He said Axon cameras are also used by the Bellingham Police Department and are the most common brand of body-worn cameras used by police departments nationwide.

Chadwick said the sheriff’s office began looking into the use of body-worn cameras in 2014 and ran a pilot test program in 2016 and another in 2019.

Initial funding for the program was approved at the beginning of 2020 but was put on hold when county departments were asked to cut costs due to revenue shortfalls from Covid-19, Chadwick said. “As we got closer to the end of the year, we thought it was important to continue with the program,” he said.

According to a memorandum from sheriff Bill Elfo, the cameras will increase transparency and accountability, improve behavior of both law enforcement and the public, expedite resolution of complaints and allegations of misconduct, enhance evidence to aid in prosecution and time spent resolving criminal cases.

The sheriff’s office hopes to get the equipment by the end of the year to allow time for training. Chadwick said personnel will need to be trained on when and how to activate, deactivate and control camera settings.

Chadwick said the county deputies will turn on their cameras “anytime there’s an interaction with a subject, or there’s potential for things to escalate.” He added the deputies also have to be aware of and respect people’s privacy.

“We’re still working on the policy but looking forward to deploying them by the end of the first quarter of 2021,” he said.

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