Body cam usage on Peninsula spreading

Clallam sheriff most recent to acquire them

Police body cams continue to be put into use on the North Olympic Peninsula, driven by concerns about officer safety and police accountability.

The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office announced in a press release this week that the agency has begun using Axon 3 officer body cams (https://www.axon.com/products/axon-body-3) to record interactions with the public on calls for service. It joins agencies in Jefferson County that have already instituted body cams.

The Port Townsend Police Department was the first agency on the Peninsula to record all interactions with the public by installing dash cameras in 2007, according to its website. The department adopted body cams from AXON Flex Cameras in November 2019.

Jefferson County Undersheriff Andy Pernsteiner wrote in a Tuesday morning email that deputies have used body cams, funded by the county, since April 2022.

The sheriff’s office has aided the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office in consultations regarding the body cam program and policies, according to his email.

The Sequim City Council agreed to a five-year contract in September 2022 and the Port Angeles Police Department is conducting a pilot program now.

No information was available from the Forks Police Department.

Clallam County’s five-year contract with Axon Enterprise of Scottsdale, Ariz., will cost $500,000. A public records specialist also will be required at the cost of about $45,000, according to a staff memo to the county commissioners in May.

The contract will include the body-worn camera and digital software to upload digital evidence into a cloud-based case management system, according to the release.

Residents also will be able to provide digital evidence of their own using a text message or email link sent by a deputy.

“Citizens will be notified they are being audio/video recorded during traffic stops and when feasible during public contacts,” according to the release.

Clallam County Sheriff Brian King told the county commissioners in May that one of the most important aspects of the program is strengthening accountability and transparency.

“Over time, we have seen the erosion of confidence and trust in law enforcement, although perhaps not here in Clallam County, but certainly across the nation and locations in our state,” he said.

“We want to say that we are doing this so we can maintain the trust that we have earned,” he added.

King said it is a tough balance between capturing evidence and honoring people’s right to privacy in settings such as schools, hospitals and homes.

So if a deputy is going into a school to talk about drug use or into someone’s home to conduct a burglary investigation, the cameras won’t be activated unless the deputy believes there is a reason to do so, he told the commissioners.

The Sequim contract is with LensLock of Poway, Calif., for about $45,000 per year.

The first year was funded mostly by a $40,000 Small, Rural and Tribal Body-Worn Camera grant through the Department of Justice.

Each of Sequim’s 20 officers received a body-worn camera, and dash cams were installed in police vehicles that capture feeds of the front and back of the car and backseat, according to a police department staff memo.

Although the Port Angeles Police Department still hasn’t completed its pilot program to test cameras, the body cam program is included in the city’s 2024 capital facilities program, said Police Chief Brian Smith.

The city won’t be adding an additional records officer to handle public records requests as Clallam County is doing, he said.

“We don’t have an extra position for the records division. So, we are rolling it out using the resources we have,” Smith said.

The two impediments are the public records requests and the cost, he said, adding the city is waiting to hear whether it will receive a five-year, $250,000 grant for the program.

The department needs to pick a body cam system advanced enough that it that doesn’t create more work for record clerks who must blur out faces of minors and other details, Smith said.

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Reporter Brian Gawley can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at brian.gawley@peninsuladailynews.com.

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