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7:47 PM Sun, Nov. 18th

YCSO could have body cameras by June

Taser/Courtesy image

Taser/Courtesy image

PRESCOTT - Before the end of June, some Yavapai County Sheriff's Office patrol deputies are likely to be wearing body cameras in the Prescott, Verde Valley and Highway 69 corridor regions.

The Yavapai County Board of Supervisors agreed Monday, May 4, to allow the Sheriff's Office to use $131,00 left in its current-year budget to buy 65 cameras from Taser (soon to be Axon), three docking stations and unlimited storage on Taser's Evidence.com cloud server. The storage alone will cost about $55,000 for a year.

Sheriff Scott Mascher sought to use current-year money instead of waiting until the next budget year that starts July 1, saying it's equipment that every patrol officer in the country likely will carry in the near future.

"It's a train heading down the tracks that can't get derailed," Mascher told the supervisors.

The Board of Supervisors approval came on a 3-2 vote, with Craig Brown and Chip Davis voting no.

"In my mind, the jail is the top priority in Yavapai County," Davis said. Supervisors are struggling with how to build a new jail in Prescott after voters rejected a sales tax increase.

The jail is a priority for him as well, Mascher said. "But I also have law enforcement to contend with," he said.

Brown said he's concerned about moving so fast, noting complex issues such as ongoing video storage costs that are likely to exceed $100,000 annually once all the patrol deputies are wearing cameras.

"It would probably be better to take a harder look at it" during budget discussions, said Brown, himself a former police officer.

Supervisor Jack Smith, also a former law officer, didn't want to wait to give officers another "tool in their toolbox. "I think the need for this outweighs the cost," he said.

Mascher promised that his office is working "slowly and deliberately" on policies and procedures related to the use of the cameras.

"It benefits the community and it benefits the police," Mascher said.

Capt. Jeff Newnum has been leading the work for several months now.

"We started to see the writing on the wall that this is something the public wants," Newnum said Tuesday. "We wanted to be ahead of the game and be forerunners in Yavapai County."

He said the YCSO will start with about five patrol officers each in the Prescott, Verde Valley and Highway 69 corridor regions wearing the cameras within five to six weeks, then expand it to more officers in those regions. A lack of bandwidth capacity could delay the cameras' use in more rural areas of the county.

Statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice during a case study of the Rialto (Calif.) Police Department show that citizen complaints about police dropped from an average of 27 annually to three after officers started wearing cameras, Newnum noted.

"When the public knows they're being recorded, they act differently," he said. "It's more professional on both ends."

He also produced charts showing Rialto police had fewer use-of-force incidents, prosecutors turned down fewer police cases because they had better evidence, and police overtime for court testimony dropped 30 percent over five years because cases that ended up in court often had solid video evidence.

YCSO officials hope that fewer people also will be in jail, because prosecutions will move more quickly and more people will agree to plea deals when they see video evidence. The YCSO plans to analyze a year's worth of data to see how the video changes their workload, Newnum added.

The YCSO already tested some cameras on its officers for a month. Newnum showed videos of officers conducting DUI stops as well as diffusing domestic violence situations. The YCSO also visited the Surprise Police Department where all the patrol officers are using the same cameras and equipment.

The agency has drawn up a draft set of policies and procedures, Newnum said. It now will create a stakeholders group consisting of law enforcement, the County Attorney's Office, the County Public Defender Department and local leaders to finalize those policies and procedures.

An internal analysis shows the county will save money by paying for Cloud storage, Newnum said. It avoids the need to buy servers to hold an estimated seven terabytes of video annually, create a computer program, and hire two people just to maintain the servers. He estimates all the equipment and storage will cost approximately $2,000 per officer annually.

Taser is the only vendor that can provide the cameras, records management and storage together, Newnum added. He noted that officers cannot alter or copy the videos. But agencies can blur things for privacy purposes before releasing videos to the public, such as juveniles' faces or the inside of homes.

If the county wants to drop out of its contract, it can take all its videos back, he added. The YCSO already has been buying Taser stun guns for about a decade.

The YCSO is well aware that it could end up in the same situation as Flagstaff and be forced to release video of an officer being killed.

"Sometimes, as horrific as it is, it shows the public that officers were acting appropriately," he said.

Follow Joanna Dodder on Twitter @JoannaDodder. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2035, or 928-642-0560.