Cell phone fee increase would fund Carson City Sheriff’s body cams | NevadaAppeal.com

Cell phone fee increase would fund Carson City Sheriff’s body cams

Taylor Pettaway and Anne Knowles
Nevada Appeal

With the new body camera mandates for law enforcement, the Carson City Sheriff's Office is looking to increase the 911 surcharge fees for residents to cover the costs of the new technology over the next five years.

The new SB176 law, signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval in May, mandates body cameras for all first responders in the state. Nevada is the second state in the country to mandate this as standard procedure for law enforcement.

For Carson City, the body camera budget will come out of the 911 surcharge fund, which is paid for through a 25 cent fee on residents' cell phone bills. However, currently there aren't enough funds to cover the cost of the cameras and infrastructure change and a 911 surcharge committee is looking to increase the fee to up to $1.

The committee went to the Board of Supervisors Thursday to discuss and vote on a master plan draft to sign the fee increase into effect.

"It is necessary for the board to accept the draft plan," said Sheriff Ken Furlong. "Then a business impact statement can be prepared and disseminated to all phone providers so we can return to the board to vote on the actual surcharge fee to be placed into our city codes."

The board approved the draft of the 911 surcharge five-year master plan that would raise rates to fund the body cameras. The proposed rates will go from $0.25 per access line to $1 and from $2.50 per trunk line to $10. The cameras would cost an estimated $110,000 in the first year and $95,000 to $100,000 in subsequent years to cover the costs of transferring and storing the video collected, according to Kathie Heath, a member of the 911 Advisory Committee who's working with the Sheriff's Office.

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"This is a very complicated process so that it is ensured it is done right," Furlong said.

Without the increase from the surcharge, the money would be taken out of the general fund. This will also ensure adequate funding of the infrastructure and surcharge of the 911 system in future years. The funding for the 911 surcharge has fallen so far behind the general fund has had to pick up about half of the cost of the 911 infrastructure.

"The 911 fund was never intended to be that way and when it happens our resources become strained," Furlong said.

"We understand the impact on cell phone and home phone users, but public safety is one thing we as a society expect is to reach our first responders. And this system helps ensure that everyone can get a hold of public safety, even if a phone bill isn't paid, you can still reach 911."

The cameras are audio/video recording systems placed on officers who interact with the public most — in Carson's case the patrol and investigation divisions, including sergeants, deputies and captains, will be the ones equipped with the new technology. Some agencies can use the mandate and funding to include video cameras, however, Carson's funding will not include that in the next five years.

"I don't believe the budget could absorb that addition for our five-year plans," Furlong said. "And it just doesn't rank high enough."

Before the cameras are put into action, the Sheriff's Office will have to create a policy outlining when it's acceptable for officers to use the technology.

Certain things like private residences, when to turn on the cameras, what incidents should be recorded and what actions will be taken in relation to officers when they don't follow the rules will all go into discussion with the policy.

Furlong said it would take a while to fully equip officers. If the board passes all necessary votes with the surcharge plan the income from the fee won't be seen until at least January 2018. From there, the best case scenario would be the officers could get the cameras at this time next year, however, Furlong doesn't believe that will happen.

"In my opinion, that doesn't mean, poof, you're going to see a lot of body cameras on July 1, 2018," Furlong told the board on Thursday.

When this plan is enacted, Furlong believes the camera will only work to enhance the deputies' jobs.

"It is generally accepted across the country that audio/video recording devices have the ability to enhance decisions through the criminal justice system to best clarify what exactly happened on scene," Furlong said.

"I think it's a valuable tool," added Deputy Thomas McDonald. "I think it needs to be there because it picks up what happened and I don't mind that."

Some deputies agree this new technology will help add another aspect to providing the best service to the community.

"I think it will be great to protect us and the public," said Deputy Israel Loyola. "It can give the other side of what really happens when we come into contact with people and not just have one side of the story."

One downside could be a shift in officer-witness relations.

"We have found that some witnesses may be reluctant to speak with a recording device on," Furlong said. "We have no intention to invade people's privacy but we want to also be able to do our jobs to the best of our abilities."

But some deputies are worried about how the cameras will negatively impact their job.

"It is just one more thing to tie up our hands when we are trying to do our jobs," said Deputy Bob Motamenpour.

"But I guess most of the time they could both help the public and officer because we see a lot of complaints about the public's perception of an officer being jaded or misconstrued when that is false. This will help prove that. But I also think it could cause some of the young officers without a lot of experience at situations to second guess themselves just for the fact that they may get in trouble and that can be just as dangerous."

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