Council backs body cameras for deputies

Bartholomew County officials are in favor of buying body cameras for full-time deputy sheriffs and will take an official vote on the proposal April 14.

County council members said during a council work session this week that they support buying 40 cameras at $180 each, as well as paying for related expenses.

Meanwhile, Columbus Police Department received final approval to purchase body cameras this week. The city will pay an estimated $66,000 for 65 cameras and to set up storage.

Columbus police have drafted a policy for body camera usage and have passed it on to officers who tested the cameras to obtain feedback, Columbus Police Chief Jon Rohde said.

City police officers began testing body cameras last summer. The Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department, however, wasn’t expecting to consider body cameras until later this year.

Sheriff Matt Myers said he thought purchasing body cameras would come before the council in late summer or early fall budget hearings.

But following last week’s PowerPoint presentation on the results of a 10-week trial period utilizing only six cameras, Myers said the reaction was positive.

“This will be huge for my staff that the council sees this as an important issue,” Myers said.

While sheriff’s department Capt. Greg Duke’s presentation focused on the value of the cameras for training, liability and preserving evidence, council members Chris Ogle and Jorge Morales said they saw deputy safety as the main benefit.

Deputies are often required to respond to hazardous situations by themselves while Columbus police usually send multiple officers out on such calls, the two council members said.

But after Duke estimated the total initial cost of the project at less than $16,00, the council seemed even more receptive to the proposal.

Duke said the equipment the sheriff’s department wants to buy is considerably less expensive because, while the equipment works, it’s already considered outdated and not state-of-the-art by many law enforcement agencies.

In addition, the cost of the storage system for video and audio is estimated at $5,917 — 21 percent less than the $7,500 storage system requested by Columbus police, Duke said.

Duke credited the county’s director of information technology, Jim Hartsook, for his research in coming up with a cost-efficient storage system.

But as council members began discussing how to finance the body camera system, deputy county auditor Sandy Beatty picked up a check from her desk representing money that few in the room realized they had.

The amount was for $55,485 — reimbursement from Sprint stemming from a 2009 county radio frequency rebanding program, Beatty said.

It was at that moment that a number of council members began voicing their support for Myers’ request.

The vote on body cameras will be in April in order to seek and receive competitive bids, which is required by the county.

Reporter Megan Banta contributed to this report.

Body camera study

During a presentation to the Bartholomew County Council, Sheriff Matt Myers and Capt. Greg Duke presented the following as “bottom lines” in their study into the use of body cameras by their deputies.

Benefits of having body cameras:

  • Better cases resulting from more evidence.
  • Evidence in statements and excited utterances recorded as per trial rule.
  • Better compliance and more effective training. The ability to see what deputies are doing and craft training accordingly.
  • Better information for the county in the event of litigation or complaints.

Consequences of not having body cameras:

  • Missing an important opportunity to improve the work of the department. 
  • Less evidence and more issues with admissibility.
  • Loss of the opportunity to realistically evaluate work performance and training needs.
  • Loss of the opportunity to record exculpatory evidence in civil matters.
Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.