Sheriff says he appreciates support, hopeful for accelerated process
CLARK COUNTY — Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik and his office’s Action and Reform Committee issued a statement on Feb. 22 urging the county council and city governments to quickly fund and implement body-worn cameras for law enforcement.
The letter comes on the heels of an officer-involved shooting with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) in Hazel Dell earlier this month, but the local and national conversation surrounding the use of cameras has been ongoing for several years.
“We write this letter to express the support of the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in implementation of body-worn cameras by Clark County local law enforcement agencies,” reads the statement. “We urge their governing bodies to practically and financially support this important law enforcement tool. Body-worn cameras have been widely adopted by law enforcement agencies across the country – it is time we do the same locally.”
In the statement, Golik explains that he supports implementation of the cameras to not only hold police accountable, but also defend officers against false claims and bring additional evidence to many cases. These reasons are widely agreed upon by law enforcement as well, including here in Clark County.
Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins said he appreciated the support of the prosecutor and that his statement reaffirmed his belief that cameras are needed and needed quickly.
“It actually throws support towards the idea that we are far beyond the need,” Atkins said. “The council just needs to find the money, and clearly, I think the council is ready now. The information that I’m hearing from them [is a] request for a complete staff report for the supplemental budget in March of the cost, upfront and ongoing, so that they can sharpen their pencils to figure out how they can find the money within the existing county budget.”
If the cameras were green-lighted by the council, Atkins said implementation would likely take at least six months. County IT is currently working on how the video files would be stored and CCSO has begun looking at what training video records requests staff would look like, Atkins said.
Videos recorded by body-worn cameras have to be securely stored and made accessible to the public for a period of time, and server space as well as people and software to do redaction is where much of the expense comes into play.
While some, like Angus Lee Law Firm, have commented that funding should be found in the existing prosecutors budget or that of CCSO, Atkins made it clear that the money is simply not there, and additional support from the general fund would be needed. Initial start-up costs for the program have been estimated in 2019 at an excess of $500,000, with potentially another $300,000 a year for an additional sergeant.
“Just like we’ve always said, there’s a limit to what our budget will hold,” Atkins said. “As new laws come in, as unfunded mandates come down, it makes it even tougher. So clearly, the only way this is going to happen is for the county to step up, realize that it’s needed and put the money behind the talk.”
In Vancouver, the city’s Community Task Force on Policing met with the city council to discuss, among other things, implementation of body-worn cameras with Vancouver Police Department (VPD).
City Manager Eric Holmes pointed out during a presentation that while the prosecutor’s statement accurately explains that reluctance to implementation is often a fiscal issue, the program is ready to be green-lighted in Vancouver.
“The city council, with adoption of the 2021-22 budget appropriated a total of $3 million,” Holmes said. “Those funds were to support the recommendations that emerged from the taskforce work which includes a body-worn camera program. And that $3 million was the number that reflects the startup and initial operating costs of a body-worn camera program.”
Holmes also explained that the city has been moving through the bureaucratic and administrative processes necessary for the program’s implementation, simultaneously. This includes the bargaining process, required by state law, with the Police Officer’s Guild and the Command Guild.
State dollars could be made available for body-worn camera programs like those proposed in Vancouver and the county, but only if approved by legislators.
“Supporting the implementation of law enforcement’s use of body-worn cameras reflects the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office goals of fairness, transparency, accountability, and the pursuit of truth and justice,” continued Golik’s statement. “When presented with the opportunity, our local legislative bodies must approve any budgetary appropriation for body-worn cameras. We owe this to the citizens of Clark County.”