The fiscal court approved 50 body cameras for the Scott County Sheriff’s Office at its Friday morning meeting.

The court unanimously approved 50 body cameras and a 60-month contract with Axon. The first year will cost $168,909.70, with $75,900 for the remaining four years of the contract, which also includes maintenance, iCloud storage and replacement cameras approximately every two years.

Scott County Sheriff Tony Hampton said the cameras have been in development since early 2020 and feels they will be beneficial moving forward.

“I’m not here today to ask for your consideration to buy these because we’re having issues within the sheriff’s office as far as use of force or bad conduct from any deputies,” Hampton said. “We’re here to ask for these actually to protect our deputies and to show complete transparency to our community.”

Hampton referenced an incident last year when a body camera came in handy in defending a deputy against allegations that occurred during a traffic stop.

“The one last year where, fortunately, we had body cam footage of a traffic stop where an allegation was made on social media on Saturday, and by Monday we were able to come together and clear that up,” he said. “Now, that was a traffic stop. No hands on, nothing happened, just he said, she said.”

Magistrate Chad Wallace said has struggled with his stance on this since it was initially brought up, but that he believes they will do more benefit than harm.

“I have waffled on this with the body cams back and forth, and I have been led to believe that this is probably the best step for our community and for our deputies,” Wallace said. 

Wallace added that he hopes the deputies understand that this approval is not an indictment on their quality of work.

“I feel like that’s important as well because we’re getting ready to make a half-a-million-dollar investment into the sheriff’s department,” he said. “I just hope that the sheriff’s deputies understand that the county is making this investment for their protection.”

Hampton said he would relay the information and that he understands both sides of the debate.

“In the beginning, am I going to tell you that they supported it 100 percent?” Hampton said. “No, they didn’t. Because they’re thinking ‘oh, what are wee doing wrong? Why do we have to put their piece of equipment on and go out here and possibly be scrutinized’ or whatever the case?”

Hampton said the policies and procedures are already in place to begin training on the body cameras for deputies.

“We realize we’re going to have to put a great deal of training into this,” Hampton said. “It’s going to be a learning curve. We’ve already developed a policy and procedure on this. At the last staff meeting, we discussed that we will roll this out, if this vote goes through today, this coming Tuesday we will start training on that policy.”

Hampton said the project is going to require patience and understanding from all those involved.

“We will ask that the court and the community be patient with us,” he said. “This is a big deal. This is a really big deal going through this. It’s going to be mandatory at most times. There’s going to be times where a deputy may forget to turn it on. So, we’re going to have to work with that. We’re going to have to have patience from the deputies, from the court, from the community, from everybody.”

Hampton added that the cameras may also be a financial benefit to the county in the future.

“It’s also protecting the county,” he said. “If there’s litigation on one or two cases, you’re going to get your money back more than likely.”

The court questioned the turnaround time on releasing certain footage and redactions based on the current policy and procedure, which Hampton said was modeled after existing policies and procedures in the state.  At the moment, Scott County Sheriff’s Office Captain Jearl Porter said there is no time limit in the policy.

“It was hard for us to kind of put that in the policy to begin with,” Porter said. “It may be something we may look at adding later just because we have to have the training improved on how to go about doing that (redactions) before releasing to the public.”

Porter said the traffic stop incident last year took nearly 3.5 hours to redact a 15-minute video, but expects that turnaround time will decrease as familiarity with the technology improves. He said this was partly due to the involvement of a minor in the situation.

“Now, at that point, they’re not really adept at how to use the system right so until we know for sure how long we get the training, the guys that get familiar with doing it, the ones that we have assigned to do that kind of stuff, we won’t be able to say how long say a 30-minute encounter or whatever like that is going to take,” Porter said.

Judge-Executive Joe Pat Covington said the videos from these cameras may also be of positive use to the department.

“I think a potential tool that could be utilized to help is taking this footage and using it as training,” Covington said. “You’ve got this potential to have that as a tool to be able to go back over a situation and say, ‘hey, let’s look at X-Y-Z.’”

Porter and Hampton both agreed and said the videos could be used to demonstrate both areas of improvement and provide positive examples of good police work. After which, the court unanimously approved the contract and purchase of the body cameras. Training for officers within the sheriff’s department is said to begin this week.

The court also tabled an amendment to an ordinance that would remove term limits for the airport board, as two members are up for reappointment. 

“There is an airport board reappointment consideration and these are joint appointments and we have a constraint in regards to the airport board on term limits,” Covington said. “The city does not, and from our research the state law does not save that you cannot have term limits, whereas tourism does. But on the airport board, it’s very specialized somewhat. You have individuals involved in aviation and it’s kind of a niche board. For us to be able to go forward with the recommended joint appointments, we would have to amend our current ordinance.”

Wallace spoke out against the amendment, saying that he has a “fundamental” belief against having zero board terms.

“I have an issue with, and I’ve had an issue, this has been brought up before, with not having term limits, and I think there’s some real logic behind having term limits. We’re a county of 60,000 people. To keep the same people on the  board, I don’t know if that’s enough verification to continue to have unlimited term limits and I strongly believe that that’s probably best that we restrict people to two terms.”

Covington said he respected Wallace’s stance and that he would make more active efforts to make board openings known moving forward, but that he felt the court should approve the amendment.

“It is my plan going forward to make an intentional campaign to share on social media and other electronic outlets other people know,” Covington said. “I think I can do a better job at that.”

Magistrate Dwayne Ellison disagreed with Wallace and said he would rather have passionate people serving the boards long-term.

“Some of these boards are just begging for people to show up sometimes,” Ellison said. “If somebody is interested or has a passion for it, whatever that is, that’s what you want. You want that type of person there, not somebody that you know doesn’t really want to do it, that’s just doing it because they feel like they have to.”

Magistrate Kelly Corman said he worried about “setting a precedent” for other boards.

After a back-and-forth discussion between magistrates, Magistrate Alvin Lyons suggested a possible hybrid between the two ends of the spectrum.

“Something less than no limits increases the pool,” Lyons said. 

Covington said perhaps increasing the term limits to four terms rather than the current two terms would be a happy medium that he would support. However, the language within the amendment to the ordinance would need to be changed to accommodate this suggestion. Therefore, the court chose to table this amendment to a special meeting later this week, where Covington said he would invite members of the airport board to be in attendance and offer some clarity.

At Friday morning’s meeting, the fiscal court also:

• Approved tourism reappointments

• Approved jail new hire / change of position

• Approved sheriff salary cap 

• Reported sheriff fee estimates

• Tabled clerk salary cap to be discussed at a special meeting next week

• Reported clerk fee estimates

• Approved court new intern hire

The fiscal court will hold a special meeting some time this week to approve the tabled clerk fees and further amending the ordinance on discuss board term limits. An official date and time for the meeting has not yet been set.

 

Kyle Woosley can be reached at kwoosley@news-graphic.com.

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