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9:03 PM Sat, Oct. 20th

Sheriff wants to buy body cameras

PRESCOTT - The Yavapai County Sheriff's Office may be the first law enforcement agency in this county to mount body-worn cameras on its officers. Sheriff Scott Mascher is asking the Board of Supervisors to appropriate the money on Monday.

Body-worn cameras (BWCs) have become a hot topic because of a series of fatal shootings of black men by police officers around the country. These shootings also prompted President Obama to establish the Task Force on 21st Century Policing to build trust between communities and law enforcement agencies. The task force offered several recommendations related to the BWCs last month.

More than 3,000 agencies across the country are using or testing the BWCs, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. And the president has proposed substantial investments in the purchase of the cameras, as well as training and technical assistance, Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason noted in a March blog.

"Agencies need to consider ways to involve the public in discussions related to the protection of their privacy and civil liberties prior to implementing new technology, as well as work with the public and other partners in the justice system to develop appropriate policies and procedures for use," the task force interim report states.

Mascher got a positive reception from the County Board of Supervisors during annual department budget meetings Tuesday, April 28, to his proposal to buy enough BWCs for all his deputies in the Prescott region and Verde Valley.

"I'm definitely in favor of this," Supervisor Rowle Simmons said.

They could save the county money in lawsuits, Supervisor Jack Smith added.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety and Prescott Valley Police Department also are considering buying the cameras, Mascher said.

He originally considered getting the cameras for all his patrol deputies and sergeants, but rural areas don't have the bandwidth to download the video, Mascher said.

The president's task force recommended that the federal government should make it a priority to build a national broadband network called First Responder Network (FirstNet) for exclusive use by law enforcement. It would allow instant communications in remote areas and support BCWs.

Mascher wants to buy 60 to 65 BWCs from the Taser company for patrol deputies in more populated areas. The cost would be approximately $131,000, with each BWC costing about $400, Mascher said. Half the cost is for an annual storage contract that will constitute an ongoing cost. Docking stations cost about $250 each, but the office calculates it needs only about one docking station for every four cameras.

While Mascher listed the request as part of his proposal for the budget year that starts July 1, he told the supervisors he has enough money left over in his current budget to cover the $131,000 so he can buy the equipment even sooner.

So the supervisors scheduled his request for their regular bi-weekly meeting on Monday, May 4, in Prescott.

Mascher said he has talked with attorneys, vendors and other agencies about issues relating to the cameras.

"There's a lot more to it than you think," he said. For example, when should deputies turn the cameras on and off? Who will deal with public records issues? He said his office is working on policies and procedures.

The sheriff concluded the cameras will help officers accurately document contacts, arrests and critical incidents. They also will enhance the accuracy of officer reports and court testimony, his budget request stated.

The president's task force cited a "seminal piece of research that demonstrated a positive impact of BWCs in policing." The study found that officers wearing cameras had 87.5 percent fewer incidents of use of force and 59 percent fewer complaints. And when officers and citizens know the cameras are rolling, the study found they both behave better. The study was published in the 2014 Journal of Quantitative Criminology.

At the same time, the cameras create concerns about privacy rights, how officers relate to people, the community's perception of police, and expectations about how police agencies should share information with the public, the report stated. That's why it recommends public involvement in policies and procedures. Task force witnesses recommended each agency create an advisory group when adopting new technology.

The report cited the January fatal shooting of a Flagstaff police officer while he was wearing a BWC. The police department released the graphic footage in response to public record requests by local media. It was shown on local TV and YouTube.

The task force recommended that the U.S. Department of Justice create best practices that can be adopted by state legislatures to govern the acquisition, use, retention and dissemination of camera data.

The task force also recommended that the DOJ create toolkits for local agencies about the most effective and constitutional use of technology, and it recommended that local agencies use the toolkit. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is working on the online toolkit and hopes to finish it this spring, Mason wrote.

Follow Joanna Dodder on Twitter @joannadodder