“The departments with all the money were the ones to get them first,” Crandall said. “We have had ours for about nine months now.”
Outfitting every patrol deputy with a camera was the easy part, Crandall said. Figuring out how to manage the wealth of data recorded by the cameras was another matter.
“Getting those cameras deployed was just the first step,” he said. “We wanted to be sure we had all the steps in place so that additional changes were not needed.”
That meant making sure the sheriff’s office was adequately equipped with computers and storage servers to handle the digital video files, and to archive them in such a way that the information easily could be obtained if needed by the district attorney’s office when prosecuting cases.
“What the public doesn’t consider is there are so many ramifications to having this data available,” Crandall said. “We didn’t have a policy in place. None of us were experts in body-worn cameras, so we had to research how other departments were managing them.”
Therefore, each deputy’s cruiser has been outfitted with an external hard drive, which allows the deputy to download footage to a secure storage system so the camera can be used for additional recording.
Because deputies may start their shift at one location and end it in another part of The County, figuring out how to get all of the data stored on the cameras or external hard drives was one hurdle to overcome.
“We have limitations that other departments do not have to think about,” Crandall said. “I have deputies that start and end their shifts more than 150 miles apart, so we had to figure out how the technology was going to work. We had to have a centralized data storage server that is encrypted and has the capacity to be backed up.”
All of the digital data cannot be erased or modified, except by one system administrator. All data is kept for a time period that varies depending on the nature of the footage. For example, video footage of an individual getting a speeding ticket may only be kept for a short period of time, whereas footage of a domestic assault could be kept longer.
“There is only a certain amount of data that can stay on the camera,” he said. “If a deputy responds to an incident, they have up to six hours worth of recording time.”
In the nine months they have been used, deputies have been receptive to the devices.
“Nobody has complained,” he said. “Cameras have never hurt a cop who is doing things right. As long as they are trying to do the right thing, the camera is their friend.”
For instance, if an individual is arrested or summoned and later claims that a deputy assaulted him, the video footage can be checked to see if there is any validity to that person’s claim.
Because the videos are evidence, getting that evidence to the district attorney’s office proved to be another challenge. Crandall said they did not want to risk using online file sharing services because the material being shared could be sensitive in nature and has the potential to be hacked.
Instead, the sheriff’s office provides copies of its videos to the district attorney’s office on DVDs.
The office was able to outfit its deputies thanks to a federal Homeland Security grant.
Crandall said dashboard cameras, while a good concept when they first were unveiled, had a limited use as they only shot footage directly in front of a police cruiser. His office has phased out dashboard cameras in favor of the body worn cameras.
“The cameras were something we felt very strongly about doing,” Crandall said. “They are recording any time there is any substantive interaction with the public or whenever they are called to a scene for an investigation.”