Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers is preparing to ask for $500,000 to hire deputies and purchase body cameras and communication radios later this year.

“I don’t want to create a hostile environment at the budget hearings (late this summer),” Myers said. “But it is my responsibility to let the people know what we need to keep everybody safe. It’s the county council and county commissioners’ responsibility to come up with the money.”

In his second year as sheriff, Myers said his top financial priorities for 2016 will be purchasing about 30 body cameras, new communication radios for deputies, and adding three to five additional deputies to the sheriff’s department.

Last spring, the Bartholomew County Council said it would support buying 40 body cameras at $180 each. But testing showed those units could easily be mistakenly switched on-and-off, images could be accidentally erased and there could be data storage problems, Capt. Brandon Slate said.

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In mid-June, the sheriffs department will begin testing both Motorola and Vievu body cameras — individually priced at $800 to $1,200, Slate said.

For two weeks, a few deputies will make sure the body cameras are recording during every public contact in order to see how they perform at all hours and during inclement weather, Myers said.

Following the testing, Slate and Myers will produce a demonstration video that will be shown during upcoming funding requests.

Although the county council and sheriff’s department were ready to move ahead with body cameras last year, those plans were tabled when privacy issues about their use became a national issue, Myers said.

However, those issues were addressed in March when Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill that allows law enforcement agencies to withhold video from the public under some circumstances, the sheriff said.

If a person challenges a decision to withhold video, the agency is required to prove in court that releasing the video would harm someone or influence a court proceeding.

What’s driving request

Myers said local residents have told him they want deputies to wear the cameras.Body cameras enhance public safety and reduce liability because they protect officers and residents, as well as become valuable in training, Myers said. There’s also evidence that when cameras are used, use-of-force incidents go down, as well as citizen complaints and lawsuits, he said.

“There’s more liability in what we do than any other department in county government,” the sheriff said.

But Myers insists he needs more than just body cameras that are four to six times more expensive than what the council consented to last year.

The department will also request funds to replace 110 radio units that deputies and jailers carry at all times.

They work in conjunction with the body cameras in providing a lapel microphone and camera with remote capacity, Slate said.

Repair parts will no longer be available for the 12-year-old radios after next year, Slate said.

Funding options

In order to reduce potential sticker shock, Myers said he will also provide council members and commissioners with three- to five-year payment plans — with 0-percent financing — available through Motorola, which has local service available through Owens Communications, Inc.In addition, the sheriff said he will remind the council and commissioners that a federal grant to purchase the radios has already been submitted.

The sheriff’s first stop for funding will be the commissioners, who control a telecommunications fund with a balance of $1,036,203 as of May 26, according to the county auditor’s office.

Myers said he will lobby that body cameras and radios are appropriate uses for telecommunications funds whether or not the grant is provided.

“We can get the cameras and the radios now — and when the grant comes, we can pay it back,” Myers said.

The problem with that strategy is that such grants are often denied when items are purchased in advance, county commissioner Carl Lienhoop said.

Nevertheless, Lienhoop and commissioners chairman Rick Flohr said they will work to provide the sheriff’s department to secure what it needs.

“We’ll find a way to make it happen,” Flohr said.

But Myers said he believes he will face stiff resistance when he asks the council to pay for three to five additional deputies.

“Taxpayers wanted us to get aggressive against narcotics,” Myers said.

In response, it assigned three deputies to a joint narcotics task force with Columbus police, Myers said.

“If I could just get three more people, that would help make up for who I had to take off the road,” he said.

State guidelines indicate that the sheriff’s department should have at least 20 more deputies than what the department has, Myers said.

“I don’t like the politics when it comes to things we need, so I dread the budget hearings,” Myers said. “But it’s all coming to a head. If all we keep hearing is ‘Do more with less,’ we’re going to see people leave, morale drop in those who stay and an increase in lawsuits.”

Since assessment of the sheriffs department’s needs is just getting underway, council President Bill Lentz said he prefers to gather more information before giving detailed comments on Myers’ anticipated request.

“Obliviously, with our financial situation, it’s going to be tough to give him everything,” Lentz said. “It’s probably going to be a give-and-take.”

Sheriff's department funding request

Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers will request about $500,000 this summer for the following items:

  • 30 Motorola or Vievu body cameras individually priced at $800 to $1,200.
  • 110 walkies-talkies/radios.
  • Data storage capacity
  • Enrollment in an exchange program that will keep the department up to date with technology in the coming years.

Funding possibilities include:

  • A $1.036 million telecommunications fund controlled by the Bartholomew County commissioners.
  • A federal grant program for the radios only.  Recipients will be announced in August.
  • A 3- to 5-year financing plan at zero-percent interest offered through Motorola.
  • Money from the county’s general fund.
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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.