Jail Jail Reform Police

Deploying Body-Worn Cameras in a County Jail

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Written by WLA Guest

By Kate Elizabeth Queram, Route Fifty

In 2016, the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office introduced body-worn cameras for patrol deputies. Within a year, citizen complaints of police misconduct in the southwestern Wyoming county decreased. Encouraged by those results, the department last month deployed body-worn cameras on deputies inside the county jail, becoming the first county detention facility in the state of Wyoming to use the technology.

The hope, officials said, is that the cameras will allow correctional officers and inmates to have more pleasant encounters while also improving security at the facility.

“Until the body camera program, just like most jails, our security consisted of a network of stationary surveillance cameras,” said Deputy Jason Mower, the department’s public information officer. “As you can imagine, those surveillance cameras don’t capture any audio and they’re fixed, so there are situations … where the existing network doesn’t always provide an angle or the audio to prove or disprove an allegation. Through our experience at the jail, and a review of jail operations after the sheriff took office, it became pretty clear to us that these body cameras would work here.”

The sheriff’s office uses Axon point-of-view cameras that clip onto the side of an officer’s head, either attached to glasses (the officer’s own prescription lenses or a non-prescriptive pair provided by the company) or a band that wraps around the back of the deputy’s head. Sworn deputies working inside of the jails are required to have their cameras turned on whenever they enter secured portions of the facility where inmates congregate, including common areas, hallways and housing units.

Video from the cameras is stored in the cloud, and random clips are periodically chosen for review by supervisors. Anything out of the ordinary—an unprofessional interaction, a safety issue—is addressed one on one.

“It’s a training tool more than anything,” Mower said. “It’s an opportunity for the supervisors to stay in touch with the day-to-day and what their people are doing.”

The jail’s inmate handbook was updated to reflect the change, Mower said, and the department has not received complaints or concerns about violating inmates’ privacy.

“We’re not walking in when you’re using the restroom,” he said. “They’re not used during strip searches or in the medical portion of the facility.”

And if sensitive footage is needed for a court case, it can be edited to preserve the privacy of inmates who are not directly involved in the incident in question, he said.

“If there was a group of inmates showering in a common area shower, and a physical altercation broke out, that’s a possible crime—assault or battery,” he said. “So any body-cam footage could potentially become evidence in a criminal proceeding. At the same time, if you’re one of those inmates in there showering and not involved, the system allows us to work with the attorneys when the time comes to redact certain things and blur people out, so your privacy is protected.”

Nationwide, body cameras have become relatively common for patrol officers and deputies in police departments and sheriff’s offices. They’re less ubiquitous in detention facilities, particularly at the county level, though a handful of jails—in Prince George’s County, Maryland and Humboldt County, California, for example—have implemented the technology. Since Sweetwater’s program went live in December, Mower has fielded questions from several other counties about how the office made the decision and what the implementation process was like. The decision to move forward with the change was easy, he said—the department was already comfortable with the technology and the $25,000 cost of expanding it to the jail wasn’t prohibitive.

“It’s really pennies on the dollar compared to what the county would have to pay out if a suit was brought against our detention staff,” he said. “It’s kind of like insurance. It’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. I just really think that in the detention setting, it encouraged more positive interactions between the deputies and the inmates. The inmates can see it, they know what it is, they know what it’s doing and there are times when it serves, in and of itself, as a de-escalation tool.”

Despite their ubiquity among law enforcement officers, the effects of body-worn police cameras are unclear. Researchers from George Mason University last year found that while the cameras “reduce the number of overall complaints against officers,” their “impacts on other police behaviors are less conclusive.”

The study, which analyzed 70 other studies on body-worn cameras, found that cameras had not had statistically significant effects on most other measures of officer and citizen interaction, including arrest rates and public perception of law enforcement. Researchers also reported mixed results on the impact that the cameras had on the use of force. Five studies, they wrote, found that officers who wore cameras used less force than officers who didn’t, but eight others found no difference between the two groups.

But Mower said the cameras have been unequivocally a valuable tool in Sweetwater County.

“Our experience has been that they’re an incredible evidence-gathering tool and they by and large have helped us,” he said. “It has been our experience that it instills a more professional encounter, not just on behalf of the officer, but also the citizen.”


WitnessLA Editor’s Note: Here in Los Angeles County, officials have not rolled out body cameras to jail or to patrol deputies, apart from a 9-month pilot program that put cameras on 96 officers between four LASD stations from September 2014 to April 2015. Last month, the sheriff’s department released a proposed body cam policy for patrol, the latest step in an 8-year journey toward implementing body cams.


This article was originally published on the website routefifty.com and is republished here with Route Fifty’s permission.

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty.

10 Comments

  • OMG! You mean that complaints went down as the inmates were lying? Who knew! What’s next Nancy Pelosi lifting weights to tear paper? I know that my suggestion will be laughed at but, here we go; Let’s put body cams on criminals? That way when they commit Arson, DV, Murder, Rape or attend a Bernie Sanders rally we can see it on video? Recall when the FBI put a cell phone w camera on a career criminal to get the goods on Deps at the jail? Oh! That’s right there wasn’t anything to see!

  • Just a warning: you aren’t going to like what the cameras capture. The behavior and culture of inmates is appalling and disgusting. It won’t take the ACLU long to demand “privacy” for the inmates, just as they have repeatedly objected to the introduction of police videos depicting criminals doing what they do.

  • Constitutionalist and Dose:
    Of course my suggestion was more tongue and cheek and not a true view that I hold. The supervision of the jail has been a problem for decades. Before MCJ was built the Grand Jury would every year condemn HOJJ and living conditions. However, taxpayers didn’t want to pony up the bucks and I don’t blame them. L.E. has changed and changed dramatically. We were criticized for not having more women. Ok, we got more women. Then criticized for more minorities. Ok, we got more minorities. Criticized for more homosexuals and we got more homosexuals. More sensitivity training, less enforcement of quality of life laws and etc etc. What hasn’t changed was the criminals that prey on the innocent and continue their vicious attacks on humanity. And now we are going to build a hospijail (made up term) that is doomed to fail at the cost of billions. One failure we have and that is our inability to fix problem officers. Most of which were(or are) at the top.
    We must ask; Had Block, Baca (Stonich, Waldie, Tanaka), McDonnell did their jobs, would Alex V been elected? Was the hate for President Trump so great that it effected a local election? I don’t think so and may I cite a case? K. Hahn was supervisor of the prominent African American district for fifty years! Didn’t matter who was president, Hahn kept rolling on and on. In fact don’t we have Hahn in county politics still. Can’t these folks find a real job? Had Baca turned over the inmate and the cell phone would there ever been a jail investigation?
    Two of these culprits sit in federal institutions and others playing golf. I will end as CS Lewis once said “A totally bad man doesn’t believe he did anything wrong.”
    I wish LASD and all Departments well.

  • I remember many years ago, ACLU used to walk around MCJ and talk to inmates. Of course, the inmates saw outside people wearing suits and acted very professional around them “Good morning sir/ma’am, have a blessed day.” These people from ACLU would tell us “how can you deputies treat these inmates like crap. They are all polite and respectful.” We got tired of it and got the approval to have a member from the ACLU work a shift with us dressed as a C/A. The moment she stepped on a row, “hey bitch! Get me some more juice.” “I need to talk use the phone you punk ass mother fucker!” One inmate even pulled his penis out and started to touch himself while she walked by his cell. She left early that day quiet and hiding her tears. We never saw her again.

    So yes…I’m totally down for body cameras in the jail. That way people who dont wear the uniform can see how the inmates really act and will clearly see they arent these poor souls that everyone else makes them out to be.

  • @Skippy, a number of years ago the ACLU was faced with a dilemma: their monitors in the jails kept coming up with reasons why the Sheriff’s Department and its employees did certain things and acted in certain ways. In other words, from the ACLU’s perspective their own people were making “excuses” for the deputies and their actions. The reality was that the monitors, after spending some time unfettered and walking around the jails watching and learning, became aware of the realities what goes on behind bars. They invariably would change from the ivory tower idealists they were when they started their crusade against police brutality and the institutional evil of the LASD. As a consequence the ACLU instituted a policy wherein they would rotate their monitors out of the jails after two years lest they become “brain washed” by the LASD.

    As my old car pool partner, Larry Elder, used to say “A fact to a liberal is like kryptonite to Superman” and these liberals were seeing the facts of jail life every day. For the ACLU’s best it was like being exposed to radiation from xrays every day and, despite being covered with a coating of lead, the radiation of reality invariably hit home. The same will happen if/when body cams are worn and their contents are revealed to the public (or to a jury, or to an oversight committee). I agree with others. Bring it on.

    • Two bits-I cant agree more! I’m all for body cameras. The DOJ a few years back started supplying various law enforcement agencies throughout the country with body cameras in Hope’s to reduce use of force incidents and shootings.

      After 2 years, they concluded that even with body cameras, the number of use of force incidents and shootings hadn’t changed and the evidence from those cameras were benefitting law enforcement’s side. So they stopped funding agencies with body cameras.

      I feel that anyone that is against wearing a body camera is someone that is doing their job wrong.

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