By Wayne Gates
The Brown County Sheriff’s Office has a new tool on the street. Deputies are now wearing body cameras.
“The cameras provide a ‘deputy view’ of interactions in the field,” said Sheriff Gordon Ellis.
“There are number of types of contacts that a deputy in the field engages in on a daily basis. For example, if a deputy pulls someone over for an OVI, it’s fairly routine for the deputy to do a field sobriety test. The cameras provide video of that field sobriety test and you can hear the interaction with the individual.”
Ellis said that the cameras can also help those who wear them.
It also protects the officer from complaints that tend to be unfounded. As an example, there was an incident that occurred with a Texas State Trooper with a body camera a couple of months ago when he made a traffic stop and arrested a young female. The woman accused the officer of sexual misconduct, but the body camera exonerated him.”
The cameras can also gather evidence that may not seem important at the time, but could become vital later.
“The cameras are passively collected evidence even as the deputies arrive. For example, if we go to a homicide scene with four deputies, as they get out of the car, they are already documenting the crime scene from four different perspectives,” Ellis said.
If a nearby car or other circumstances become relevant later, Ellis said that the video record has it preserved.
The cameras can also prove invaluable in the case of lethal force being used.
“If there is a lethal use of force in the field and the deputy is wearing a body camera, it shows the interaction and allows us to demonstrate why the deputy had to use lethal force,” Ellis said.
Officer safety can also be enhanced by the cameras in a couple of other ways. First, if a deputy is attacked in the field, a record of the attack can help provide identification of the suspect.
The cameras can also be used as a teaching tool.
“The video allows us to go back to field contacts and identify training weaknesses within the agency or correct any individual behavior like approaching a car the wrong way or standing too close to a suspect,” Ellis said.
The cameras have been designed for ease of use by the deputies.
“When the deputy is done with their shift, they plug the unit into the cradle which charges it and also downloads the video to an evidence collection site,” Ellis said.
“We set the retention rates based on what occurred. Standard video where nothing unusual happened is saved for about sixty days. If it’s a felony or any video that we want to preserve, it’s kept for a longer period of time.”
Brown County Prosecutor Zac Corbin is also happy to see the new equipment.
“I’m excited that Sheriff Ellis has equipped his deputies with body cameras. I do feel that it will be helpful to prosecution of cases,” he said.
“Without that body camera footage, we read a narrative of what took place. We are used to reading reports and narratives that describe what happened. That’s fine for information, but there is something different about actually being able to view it. It gives us a better perspective on what is occurring.”
Corbin said an objective record of an encounter is very valuable.
“You are going to have people who will dispute what the law enforcement officer has written in a report. If you have it on video, it can’t be disputed,” he said.
And if a case comes to trial, “Juries are going to give video more weight than someone’s verbal recollection of an event,” Corbin said.