(Sheridan, Wyo.) The Sheridan Police Department, after much thought, research, and hands-on testing, has placed their new body-worn cameras into service. Sergeant Dan Keller talked to County 3 and answered some questions about the process.
County 3: The department has already used dash-cams for awhile, right?
Sgt. Keller: You know, when I first got here we still had a few of the old 8 mm cassette tape style ones. We use a digital system now called ICOP, that’s actually become old and antiquated, and we’ll be upgrading those to a system that works with our current body-worn cameras.
County 3: What type of cameras did you choose?
Sgt. Keller: We put out an RFP (request for proposals) and we had seven vendors submit proposals, and we went through a really lengthy process of evaluating those. Chief Adriaens is a real stickler about being good stewards of the community’s money, so we went through a really rigorous process of balancing: You don’t want to just get the cheapest, or the most expensive, try to get something that’s the best deal around, that’s going to be durable and last us.
So we actually narrowed it down to the two best and Axon was one of those. The other one was a company called WatchGuard, and then we field-tested both of those. In addition, we visited different departments that use both of those, we went to a national conference in DC, visited with lots of people from all over the country, gained a lot of information, and WatchGuard was the company we went with.
Vista wifi is the name of the model. One of the advantages of that is that it’s pretty ruggedized and there’s no wires or connections. It’s its own unit, so officers are not adding anything to their belt, no more wires, no goofy things on your head… it’s just one device. For various reasons we went with WatchGuard, and the wearability with no extra wires was one of the big factors actually. One of the things we heard from different agencies at the conference we went to is that you’ll spend a fortune on clips and wires.
You don’t even notice it when you’re wearing your vest and everything else.
County 3: How will the footage be stored?
That was one of the craziest things, trying to vet vendors, because they all package their data storage differently, and there’s lots of different ways you could… In the cloud, a local server, or a hybrid version of the two.
In the end we found that the best way for us was to buy a server to store it all locally. It was a fraction of the cost of cloud storage and when you use these vendors they all boast about their security with cloud storage by using them, but if we do it locally we really just eliminate the need for that.
We do want to keep it really secure. Our IT department keeps things incredibly secure here.
County 3: How long will the footage be kept?
Sgt. Keller: Our policy ranges, there is a scale of incidents. An inadvertent recording would need to be kept for 30 days. Evidence of a crime, up to five years, possibly longer. So there’s just a scale of how important the event is to how long we keep it.
County 3: Will you review footage as a part of training?
Sgt. Keller: Anytime a patrol officer does something and they type a report, their supervisor reviews it, and if need-be goes over that with them, if they’re just reading it. So it just really enhances that.
An officer’s going to make, say, 20 traffic stops in a month. A sergeant doesn’t have the time to go through each one of those. If a complaint is made, or if you notice a problem, or an officer gets a compliment, we’ll want to review those and go over it with the officer. If there’s a use-of-force, we’re probably gonna be looking at that. We’re already looking at every report, so if there were anything that were needed, it gives us that enhanced ability to really get a birds-eye view to review the incident.
County 3: Do people have to consent to be recorded?
Sgt. Keller: Wyoming is a one-party consent state. That said, we’re not trying to be sneaky with people. For years, we’ve audio recorded almost every contact anyway. So in short, the answer is no, we don’t have to ask permission to be recording people. I think most people, in this day and age, kind of assume there’s a good chance you’re being recorded if you’re in contact with a police department.
If I knock on your door, just to visit with you about something, and I want to come in and talk to you. Say, maybe I think you may have been a witness to a crime, or you’ve called me because you want to talk about your neighbor’s dog barking. In those situations, were really entering your house only by your consent, so if you said, “I’m not comfortable recording that,” we probably make it just an audio recording, or we’d ask you to just step out and talk with us.
If I’m chasing you because you just committed a crime and you run into your house, or if I go to your house because somebody hears a domestic going on… Basically as long as we have a lawful presence to be somewhere, we can record. That lawful presence can be your consent in your home, or it can be an exigent circumstance, like we hear somebody being hurt. So as long as one of those things exists, were likely going to be recording.
County 3: Are there times when you might turn off the camera?
We use a common sense approach. If there’s an explicit situation in a restroom or something, if it’s possible and plausible, we will certainly turn it off. We don’t want to record people in uncomfortable situations. That said, oftentimes when we’re recording, it’s a rapidly evolving situation. If we’re running into a bathroom because we’re chasing somebody who committed a crime, were not going to take the time to turn it off.
What’s really important for people to realize is… Just because we record something doesn’t mean it’s going to be made public. There has to be a public interest in it. There’s the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) process people go through to get stuff released. And even if we do have to release something, we have the ability to redact faces or other private information. We’ll take every precaution we can to protect people’s privacy.
County 3: How much did the cameras cost?
Sgt. Keller: $73,000. That includes the server, the software, the cameras, the attachments.
County 3: Were there any grants involved?
Sgt. Keller: $36,000 of that was provided by a grant from the Department of Justice.
County 3: Have you ever wished you had a body-worn camera before?
We don’t get many complaints here at all. We investigate each one, when they do come in, and those dash-cams through the years have really expedited that investigation when there’s a complaint made. And more often than not, when someone makes a complaint, we let them watch the video and almost every time they’re like, “Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking.” Once they step out of their own emotion at the time and look at it they’re like, “Ok, yeah. The officer’s being perfectly normal. That makes sense.”
So we think that will heighten that process and help us be more transparent with the community, which is always a goal.
One thing we like to emphasize for everybody in the community to realize is that body-worn cameras are fantastic but, like any technology, or any camera, they have limitations. Just because I’m wearing a body-worn camera, it’s not like there is a film crew getting a panoramic view of everything. You’re getting a limited perspective of an incident. They’re great but they have limitations, that’s important for people to realize that… Being in a situation is always different than watching it.