The South Jacksonville Police Department is ahead of most other law enforcement in the area when it comes to body cameras.
Currently, they are one of the only departments in the county to use body cameras. However, problems with the manufacturer Watch Guard, connectivity and charging problems, and ease of use has made using the cameras a hassle for officers in the line of duty at best. The Watch Guard cameras also have a tendency to tether officers to a charger and mounting components are made of thin plastic, making it easier for them to fall off or break.
Village Chief of Police Eric Hansell recently brought a proposal to the Board of Trustees to switch out the police department’s body cameras and taser units to a new company, Axon Software.
Hansell says the state mandate to have all departments with body cameras by 2025 is a significant financial burden: “When you are talking about getting a system that’s going to download and maintain all of the data…for the system that we are looking at now which is going to include tasers but they are a small portion of [the cost]…$84,000 over a 5-year period, so $17,000 a year. That’s for the redaction software, the redaction assistant, the storage, the licensed user fees because each officer has to have a license, each camera has to have a license and you are talking 2 cameras per officer with a squad car and a body camera…so it’s huge. It’s a huge undertaking as far as monetary cost.”
Hansell says small departments like South Jacksonville also have to find time to dedicate for maintenance and dissemination of body camera footage to media, the state’s attorney’s office, and to the public when it’s requested or needed. Hansell says they have a dedicated officer who does most of that work: “You have the time of actually downloading the data into the server with the way we are currently doing it, and then, managing it. Then, you also have to produce discs for the state’s attorney’s office for criminal offenses, deleting data that’s required to be deleted under the state statute. It takes up a lot of time. I have one officer that pretty much all they do other than some detective work is managing the videos from body cameras. That was one of the moves we made. All of the digital data through our department, whether it be through our tasers, our body cameras, data that we recover from businesses or private citizens on criminal offenses – we had to move one of our officers to a full-time detective spot to help manage that data and keep track of it all because of the amount of time and effort that it takes.”
The new body camera system will have cloud-based video storage through Axon. Hansell says it will allow his department to easier share digital video files to other agencies on the software or to attach them to email to communicate with other departments.
The purchase of the software is set to be discussed further at the Board of Trustees meeting on March 17th.