Four employees are having a positive experience in trial, wearing the camera for every shift this month
The Clark County Sheriff’s Office is testing a new set of eyes on its operations.
Three deputies and one sergeant have been using body-worn cameras this month, a trial run that administrators expect will become a permanent fixture for the agency, perhaps as soon as by the end of the year.
“I don’t have any cons,” said Chris Fisk, a deputy, when asked about the pros and cons of the Axon cameras.
“Easy to work. Easy to use. It’s something that I think will be great for our agency. It’s nice to have the video. It’s indisputable.”
He and his colleagues say the cameras will be beneficial for all involved, including law enforcement.
“If you get a complaint, it shows what really happened, whether we did something wrong or whether they were saying something that wasn’t fully accurate,” Fisk said.
“I’ve got nothing bad to say about it,” added Josh Troyer, a deputy. “I’m confident in my training and abilities and the policies we have here. It’s another way to see what we’re doing and be transparent.”
The Clark County Sheriff’s Office held a press event Monday morning in Ridgefield to showcase the cameras on the uniforms as well as the in-car cameras that have been installed in two vehicles.
Sgt. Brian Ellithorpe said he appreciates the back-up that the camera provides for him and his colleagues.
“If there is a false claim about what we’ve done or what we haven’t done, it’s all recorded,” Ellithorpe said. “We police ourselves pretty well. We get down on ourselves when we don’t do the best we can.”
With that said, he is confident that the cameras will show professional behavior from the sheriff’s department.
“I’m not worried about anyone saying, ‘He was rude to me.’ Or, ‘He did this.’ Or ‘He did that.’ Well, watch the video,” Ellithorpe said.
The cameras come from Axon, the same company Vancouver Police Department is using for its camera program..
“It’s a huge step forward,” said Todd Barsness, headquarters commander at CCSO. “Body-worn cameras are not new to law enforcement across the nation. It’s going to be new to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. We’re really excited.”
The four employees have been using their cameras on every shift to get an idea of a typical workload in a month. From routine traffic stops to response calls. The deputies also have access to the video when filing their reports.
“Current policy allows our deputies to review the footage,” Barsness said. “If we’re documenting an incident, we really should use the best and all available resources in order to do that.”
It is office policy for deputies to advise drivers who have been pulled over for a traffic violation that they are being recorded. Ellithorpe noted that just about everyone then stares at the cameras, which are placed on the front of the uniform.
The cameras are always “on” but they are activated in a number of ways. A deputy can double-tap the button to manually activate the camera. When a vehicle’s emergency lights are turned on, the cameras are activated. And when a deputy draws his weapon, the camera is activated. Because the cameras are “on” even when they are not activated, officials can adjust the settings on the camera to show what has happened up to two minutes prior to activation.
The plan is to take the data from the cameras and feedback from the four individuals to file a report, then give that report to the Clark County chair and council in hopes of signing a long-term contract. That could mean all deputies would have body-worn cameras by the end of the year, and in-car cameras installed in every vehicle by the first quarter of 2024.
Fisk’s vehicle was also used for a test of another system that the sheriff’s office expects to be included in a potential Axon deal.
Fisk, while on regular patrol, had a camera recording and detecting plates, a system simply called: Automated License Plate Reader. It checks with the National Criminal Information Center. So far in April, Fisk’s camera has read 35,000 license plates, and detected five cars that were stolen.
With one week left of the trial, the sheriff’s department said it has been an overall positive experience, and deputies are fans of the body-worn cameras.
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