Dillon police roll out next generation of body and vehicle cameras
The Dillon Police Department recently completed the rollout of a new camera system meant to provide community members with more transparency on police activities in town and to serve as a useful tool for officers to be more accurate in their reporting.
Earlier this month, Dillon outfitted its officers with upgraded body cameras and installed two new cameras into each patrol vehicle. While camera use among law enforcement agencies has been a hot topic of conversation following the passage last year of Senate Bill 20-217 — the state’s Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity Act — Dillon Police Chief Cale Osborn said the move was motivated by internal strategies implemented well before the bill’s passage.
“This organization has always thought (cameras) were an important element of our operations, so this started well before the 217 discussions,” Osborn said. “… We were just trying to make our program the best it could be, and it just happened to fall in the same year. It’s been an organizational priority in the essence of being transparent with the community and being very precise when it comes to reporting and accountability.”
Dillon officers have been using body-worn cameras for about seven years, and the new rollout represents the third generation of cameras the department has used since the program was first implemented. Osborn said the devices are upgraded occasionally as new technology emerges: improved battery life, durability, and picture and audio quality in this case.
The devices are popular among officers at the department.
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“We love them as police officers,” Dillon Sgt. Craig Johnson said. “We’ve seen over the time that we’ve had them at Dillon that they are a benefit, not a burden on us. They help us review and be more accurate as law enforcement and really allow our officers to take their time and really be detailed in what was going on so they can re-see what happened. A lot of the time, when you’re in the moment, it’s very hard to remember exactly what happened, whether that be from adrenaline or something else. So it’s a great tool for us to go back and be detailed and see what really happened.”
In addition to the improved body cameras, the department also installed new vehicle-mounted cameras in each patrol vehicle. The first is mounted inside the detention area of the car so officers can keep an eye on individuals they’ve arrested to monitor their well-being. The other is a dash cam mounted on the front of the vehicle that captures a driver’s point of view from inside, which will help officers with DUI investigations, ensure officers are driving professionally and safely, and provide a second camera angle for calls.
“Most of the incidents you go to, there’s a patrol car involved,” Osborn said. “If you’re away from your car, your body cam is capturing, as well. One of the things that’s been identified, especially with personal body cams, is they’re only giving a partial picture. We feel with the enhancement of the dash cam, it just improves the perspective where you have two cameras instead of one.”
All three cameras can be turned on and off manually, though all are automatically turned on whenever an officer turns on the emergency light system in their car. The body cameras also can record footage up to a minute before they’re actually activated, Osborn said. All of the cameras capture audio as well as video.
When an officer pulls back into the police department, the vehicle cameras automatically upload all of their footage into cloud storage, according to Johnson. Officers are required to upload footage from their body cams manually, a process that takes about five minutes.
While some law enforcement agencies will have to start from square one in implementing measures mandated by the new law, such as requiring all peace officers to wear body cameras by 2023, Osborn said being ahead of the game has helped considerably in cost savings. In total, the upgrade cost the department about $40,000.
“We’ve been with (Digital Ally) for the last seven years,” Osborn said about the company that the department uses for evidence storage and management. “All of our systems are budgeted and in place. … Realizing we’re a fairly small organization, we’ve spread the cost of that over the last seven years. We’re not starting from scratch.”
By comparison, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, the county’s largest law enforcement agency, is spending about $250,000 for new body and in-car cameras. The office contracted with Axon to provide the cameras last year, and the company is expected to come out in March to help set up the system and train staff, according to Chris Walton, commander of the recently established Support Services Division overseeing the rollout of the law for the Sheriff’s Office, who spoke at the Summit Board of County Commissioners meeting Tuesday, Feb. 9.
The Sheriff’s Office is expecting to deploy its body cameras in April followed by new dash cameras in late spring. With a rough timeline set, the Sheriff’s Office is also in the process of bringing on new evidence technicians to handle the expanded workload around the storage, redaction and cataloging of the captured footage. One technician already has started, and county commissioners approved the hiring of a second during Tuesday’s meeting. Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said the second tech already has received a conditional job offer and is undergoing background, polygraph and psychological testing.
“I think it’s imperative that we have a fully staffed and trained evidence section as we integrate an entirely new and vital system into our daily operations — systems required by law,” Walton said. “… We’d like to start off on the best possible foot. Hiring of that second evidence technician now ensures that all personnel will receive the same expert training from the Axon professional services team. And then they’ll be fully integrated during the internal training phase of the deployment.”
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