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Sheriff's deputies will wear body cameras

Chest-mounted Android smartphones will serve as body worn cameras for deputies with the Washington County Sheriff's Office. (Submitted photo)

Washington County

The Washington County Sheriff's Office will equip its deputies with body worn cameras starting in January.

The cameras will be part of a multifunctional software package installed in a chest-mounted Android smartphone. The devices will also function as a cellphone, audio recorder and real-time GPS tracker so an officer's precise location can be pinpointed, even if they are unable to immediately respond.

"It will be an all-in-one piece of equipment," Sheriff Bill Hutton said.

Because the smartphones will replace digital recorders and cameras, the sheriff's office will save an estimated $60,000 per year, Hutton said. That will offset the $108,000 cost of the software and Verizon wireless data plan. The 135 phones, a rugged military grade model called the Kyocera Brigadier, are being provided free by Verizon.

The estimated cost is $48,000 the first year and $60,000 per year after that, sheriff's Cmdr. Andrew Ellickson said. The sheriff's office will still use dashboard cameras on their patrol cars.

"We will still continue with those programs and capturing traffic stops," Ellickson said.

Recorded body cam video or audio will be automatically uploaded via Verizon or the internet to the secure Microsoft Government Cloud.

The video footage will not have enhancements such as night vision or glare reduction.

"You're going to see what the officer sees," Ellickson said.

Ellickson said they will retain all non-critical visual and audio data for 180 days, twice the 90-day minimum required by state law. Otherwise, the sheriff's office policy mirrors that of the state: body camera data that is used as evidence in a criminal investigation is confidential until the investigation is complete, and deputies are permitted to view the video prior to making a report.

All 108 full-time deputies should have the devices by February, Hutton said. The remainder of the devices will be used by part-time deputies as well as officers in the county jail and part-time officers with the water, parks and trails unit.

Other features include:

• An instant playback function on the phone that allows deputies to review the previous 30 seconds of video should a chance encounter with one or more individuals turn antagonistic or physical.

• Redaction software from Vision DSP will allow the blurring or highlighting of faces or objects.

• A remote function that will allow a phone to be activated or wiped remotely.

A public comment period is required before the program can be implemented, Hutton said. An open forum is scheduled for the Dec. 20 Washington County Board of Commissioners meeting. The public can also send comments or questions to sheriff@co.washington.mn.us or by mail to Sheriff, 15015 62nd St. N., Stillwater, MN 55082.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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