Queen Anne’s deputies to wear body cameras
CENTREVILLE — The Queen Anne’s County Sheriff’s Office has purchased body cameras for all its deputies to better hold it and the community accountable for actions taken, Major Dwayne Boardman told county commissioners during their June 28 meeting.
The equipment, purchased from TASER International, cost $290,012.96 and was paid for in the sheriff’s FY 2016 budget. The purchase includes a five-year agreement with the company that any changes in technology or equipment in that time frame will be covered by the initial payment.
“We’re not just buying something that’s good only this year,” Sheriff Gary Hofmann said. “...We have an agreement with them for the next five years [that] they’re going to make sure that ... we’re changing with technology through the advancement of the equipment.”
The cameras, which can produce various levels of high quality audio and video, can be worn on an officer’s lapel, shoulder or glasses and will send the information to a system that stores the data in the cloud server.
Though the cameras will be new to Queen Anne’s County, other Eastern Shore police agencies, such as those in Salisbury and Cambridge, are already using them. Boardman said most departments want some sort of camera device but are unable to purchase them due to cost.
Local Government Insurance Trust, the insurance carrier for the sheriff’s office, has recommended all of its law enforcement clients purchase and use the cameras, Boardman said. LGIT provided a small amount of money toward the purchase.
Before buying the cameras, the office completed a multimonth trial of the product.
Boardman said the office believes cameras will increase officer safety, allow for better documentation of traffic violations, citizen behavior will improve knowing they are being recorded as well as will reduce court time and costs and will help avoid “frivolous lawsuits and lawsuits in general.”
“If something comes up good or bad, we’re going to continue to maintain transparency with the community,” Hofmann said. “This system can benefit the law enforcement officer, and it can benefit the public as well.”
In prior years, deputies had cameras on the dashboards of their vehicles but when the software crashed and the cameras became unusable, as well as expensive to fix, the office discontinued their use.
“We’ve always been on the cutting edge of technology,” Hofmann said. “We want to maintain that level of professionalism within the community, and we want to maintain that level of trust that we’ve worked very had to create and keep.”
The body cameras begin recording once a deputy double taps it to activate the device. The system is set to automatically go back 30 seconds and will provide video leading up to the activation because the camera is technically always on, though not actively streaming the video. Once a deputy activates the device, both audio and video will be recorded.
“Let’s say you see an infraction in front of you, you can activate it right then. It will go back 30 seconds, and it will lead up to what that infraction was,” Boardman said. “... It will give you that evidence as far as video, and it will give you audio at the time that you activate the device.”
Boardman said the department is still finalizing its policy for how to properly manage and use the equipment, but through advice from the department’s insurance carrier’s attorney and the Chiefs of Police Model Policy for Body Worn Cameras, it created a policy “I think everybody’s going to be pleased with.”
The policy covers such issues as how long video and audio will be saved, protocol for who can access the data as well as records of who viewed the information, and what can and cannot be redacted from the videos. Citizens may obtain video footage through a Public Information Act request.
Boardman said videos can be redacted to the media or private citizens if information is caught in the video that violates the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, such as a person’s medication sitting on a table. Information can be redacted, as well, in cases involving juveniles or if the department does not want to release the person’s identity.
Though Boardman said the county does not have many incidences where these cameras would be needed, eventually a situation could arise and the use of video footage could become useful.
“We are so fortunate here in this county compared to others I’ve worked in. There’s still a wide respect for law enforcement in this county and visa versa, there’s wide respect for the citizenship by police in this county by all the police departments,” Boardman said. “...This is a great place to work and that’s why I think there are fewer instances where there may be false allegations out there where you would have them in other areas. However, times are changing slowly, and I’m sure it will catch up to us here.”
The Taser Axon Flex body worn camera, which the Queen Anne’s County Office of the Sheriff recently purchased, can be worn on an officer’s lapel, shoulder or glasses, Major Dwayne Boardman told county commissioners during their June 28 meeting.
Major Dwayne Boardman, undersheriff for Queen Anne’s County, reviews the office’s purchase of body cameras before the county commissioners June 28.