Carson City Sheriff’s officers using new body cameras
The employees with the Carson City Sheriff’s Office have been upgraded, with the implementation of their new body cameras.
Per the new legislative statute, all law enforcement agencies in Nevada will be required to outfit their officers with body cameras. As per the statute, all agencies have to have them operational by July 1, but Carson City was able to roll their cameras out the second week of June.
Every deputy, sergeant and investigator will be equipped with the cameras, which are mounted on the front of their uniforms. Due to funding restrictions, the department is only able to staff each individual officer, but not the vehicles as well.
“More than 10 years ago we did have cameras in the cars, but fiscally it was impossible to continue,” Furlong said.
Because the statute is still new, the Sheriff’s Office had to create policies to determine when deputies can and should turn on their cameras.
“Our policy shadows the law, but theirs isn’t as specific as ours is,” said Capt. Jeff Melvin. “We don’t turn them on at the beginning of our shift and off at the end, it is running all the time but when we come into contact with the public in an enforcement capacity then we start recording until the call for service is finished.”
Melvin also said if a normal contact becomes adversarial they will also turn on the camera. One restriction comes into play when an officer is inside a residence, as it turns into a possible question of privacy rights.
“We want to respect the privacy rights of our contacts, so the officers will have to weigh the value of the video against the value of those rights and to do that, look at reasons like why we are there, why we are recording and what the nature of the privacy issue is at that moment,” Melvin said.
The cameras also create challenges in recording the totality of an incident.
“I am skeptical that the public at large fully understands the limitations of the camera,” Furlong said.
For example, because the camera is mounted to the chest, it only captures what is directly in front of the officer.
“If something happens to the side and the officer has turned his head to look at something, the camera isn’t going to necessarily capture that unless the officer turns his full body,” Furlong said. “The body cameras offer a very narrow view of the incident and it isn’t necessarily capturing everything the officer sees.”
The same issue goes for when officers are in the vehicle. For example, if an officer suspects a DUI in progress, the camera isn’t necessarily going to record what the suspect vehicle was doing until the officer steps out of his vehicle.
“Sitting in the car, you can turn on your camera, but all you are going to be able to see is the dashboard,” Furlong said.
Furlong said another issue they’re finding is building the muscle memory for the officers to remember to turn it on.
“When you get into that spontaneous emergency they have to have that muscle memory and at what point do you turn it on?” Furlong said. “That muscle memory means training your body to do things without thinking of it and while they are training, they will have to do it over and over again before they can do it without thinking of it.
“It will be several months before it is run efficiently and at least a year before we are comfortable with program usage and management.”
The deputies also don’t have access to the footage the camera takes, as it’s immediately encrypted and stored in the system’s infrastructure, meaning there’s no way they can alter or edit it.
Footage is stored for certain intervals of time, depending on the severity of the incident. A misdemeanor crime is stored for one year, a felony for three years and critical incidents are kept indefinitely. If it isn’t tagged for a crime or assigned a case number, then the incident is kept for shorter than a year.
Some footage can be viewed by involved parties through the department’s civil office, however, criminal footage won’t be available as it will be subpoenaed. The department is still working out exactly how the public can obtain that footage.
Every deputy has been trained with the camera before being issued one. And Melvin said the transition has been well received but not necessarily smooth.
“They just have to get used to it, it is a part of our job that we haven’t done before so it is learning to remember it,” Melvin said. “Everyone sees the value of being able to have our perspective out there. It provides and helps get our side of the story out there.”