Pierce County, Wash., to Buy Deputies Body, In-Car Cameras

The county council unanimously approved the first step in purchasing body cameras and in-vehicle cameras for deputies of the Sheriff’s Office this week. The first five years of the program will cost roughly $9.2 million.

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(TNS) — The Pierce County Council unanimously approved the first step in adding body-worn cameras for sheriff’s deputies and dash cameras in their vehicles.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department presented initial costs to the County Council and received a green light.

For the first five years, adding the cameras and the required staffing and technology would cost the county about $9.2 million, according to one estimate provided by the department.

Some Pierce County police departments, including the Sheriff’s Department, have said costs and public disclosure laws have deterred camera implementation
. Until this summer, none of the county’s 19 police departments had body cameras. Gig Harbor became the first in June.

The county’s proposal is a response to the community’s call for more law enforcement accountability after the death of Manuel Ellis, bill sponsor and Council member Marty Campbell said in an August meeting.

Many Pierce County cities, including Tacoma, Puyallup, Orting and Bonney Lake, had residents march with signs and chants at the end of May into June. The Black Lives Matter protests helped to spark a local conversation about police reform and transparency.

The Sheriff’s Department will come back to the council in the coming months with details on implementation, like whether to start a department-wide program or begin with a pilot program, and what policies would look like, County Council spokesperson Brynn Grimley said.

The council needs to decide whether to fund body-worn cameras, dash cameras or both, Grimley said.

“They still have to talk about how this gets rolled out,” she said.

The County Council also must approve expenses, the department has to enter in a contract for the equipment and deputies have to be trained.

A presentation provided to the council said if funding is approved, getting a contract would take about six months with up to two years to implement body and dash cameras, due to training and adding policies and procedures.

The $9.2 million includes adding seven staff positions exclusively to review body and dash camera footage and one technology position. State law allows for the public to request camera footage with a few restrictions, like footage that violates a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy.

The total cost also includes $1.2 million for the equipment, data storage, installation and training, a department presentation to the county council said.

Spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department, Ed Troyer, said deputeis welcome the added transparency.

“The majority of time, body cameras exonerate the officer,” he said. “We’re not afraid of it. We look forward to adding them.”

“If funded, we could make it work,” Troyer said.

Council member Campbell said he hopes the 355-deputy department is already taking steps to implement body and dash cameras.

“Hopefully they are already working on this and not waiting on action, so as soon as they can, they get something going,” he said in an August council meeting.

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