PORT ANGELES — Clallam County sheriff’s deputies will begin wearing body cams as soon as a public records person is hired and the use policy and vendor contract are finalized, Sheriff Brian King told the county commissioners.
“A competitive technology market has brought down the cost. So now is the time to implement this program,” King said at Monday’s work session.
The five-year contract will cost $500,000, which will be funded through various sources. A public records specialist also will be required at the cost of about $45,000, according to a staff memo.
“We want to say that we are doing this so we can maintain the trust that we have earned,” King said.
Commissioner Mark Ozias said one of the strengths of King’s proposal was all the outreach he did to the labor unions, prosecuting attorney’s office, Clallam County Public Defenders and others.
King said one of the most important aspects of the program is strengthening public 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.
Other jurisdictions see an initial 50 percent increase in public records requests, but that usually declines to about 35 percent, King said.
The current public records officer won’t be able to handle that, so another full-time position is necessary, he said.
Retention and dissemination is the other part of the new person’s job, King said.
The privacy protections will depend upon the deputies’ discretion, but people will be told upfront that they are being audio and video recorded, King said.
One thing in the policy that the sheriff’s office wanted to take away was blanket discretion for the deputies to turn it off whenever they want, he said.
Citizens knowing that deputies have these cameras changes behavior, King said.
Ozias said it could serve not just as a risk mitigation tool but a trust-building tool with the public.
King said cities are required to pass an ordinance allowing police officer body cams, but counties are not.
Chief Criminal Deputy Amy Bundy of the Sheriff’s Office has extensively looked at implementation of these cameras across the state, King said.
It’s a tough balance between what we are trying to capture and honoring people’s right to privacy in settings such as schools, hospitals and homes, King said.
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 said.
Commissioner Mike French said he appreciated the evidentiary value of the body cams.
King said both the defense bar and the prosecuting attorney’s office know that having video-capturing interactions between law enforcement and the public expedites charging decisions. And juries today expect to have that information there, he said.
Reporter Brian Gawley can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.