The Yuma County Sheriff’s Office has implemented new body worn cameras for integration into both its Patrol and Detentions Divisions. The purpose of the new body worn cameras is to provide additional reliable documentation of interactions and encounters with citizens and inmates. “Body worn cameras will not only offer us the opportunity to provide the District Attorney’s Office with audio/video evidence in criminal cases, but is also a useful measure of transparency, and a means of more thoroughly addressing any potential complaints against staff from citizens and inmates, or the ability to share positive and encouraging interactions” says Sheriff Chad Day.
Although body worn cameras are not required for Colorado law enforcement agencies, Sheriff Day elected to begin evaluating their use believing that such legislation is very likely. In 2015 the Colorado General Assembly passed House Bill 1285 which mandated that the Colorado Department of Public Safety empanel a body worn camera study group that would evaluate practices for statewide implementation.
The Yuma County Sheriff’s Office began researching and field-testing body worn cameras mid-year 2016. After evaluating a number of different systems, deputies began wearing the selected new body worn cameras on February 15th of this year. The Sheriff’s Office opted to move forward with a relatively new, and unconventional body camera company called Visual Labs Inc. The company can be considered unconventional in the sense that they refer to themselves as, “The body camera company that does not make body cameras.™”
Visual Labs instead relies upon the ever-evolving technology of the smartphone market and provides and app-based software program that utilizes the deputy’s agency-issued phone as their body worn camera. Although the company has since secured contracts with several other Colorado law enforcement agencies, the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office became the first in the state to begin using their system when an agreement was formalized with the California-based company in January.
One of the greatest selling points specifically for the Visual Labs body worn cameras was the fact that it is not simply just a stand-alone body camera like most on the market. Integration with the smartphone’s GPS capabilities will also provide the Sheriff’s Office with the ability to analyze geographical data to assess effectiveness at patrolling specific “hotspot” areas of the county, the county as a whole, and even the Town of Eckley which the Sheriff’s Office provides contract law enforcement services to. “I’m pleased so far with our relationship with Visual Labs,” says Sheriff Day. “They have been excellent to work with and have been extremely responsive to our suggestions for additional software features.”
The Yuma County Sheriff’s Office is the first in the state to have implemented body worn cameras within a county detention facility. Although this has been done in other states, it is a relatively new trend that is being considered by many other counties in the state, and was only made possible due to the low acquisition and maintenance cost provided by Visual Labs. Funding for the new devices was secured through a grant, with the software access and data storage costs being implemented into the Sheriff’s Office’s budget.
While the use of these recording devices will significantly benefit both the community and the Sheriff’s Office, no technology is a perfect answer to all situations. Body worn cameras have limitations, and are solely intended to be a supplement to a deputy’s own observations. Prior to the agency-wide implementation, deputies received training that covered their use, policies in relation to when the devices should be activated or deactivated, citizen privacy considerations, preservation and retention of recordings, reviewing of footage, and public access to recordings.
In an effort to provide complete transparency to the public about the use of body worn cameras, the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office has posted its policies on their website for public view. These policies were implemented through an evaluation and consultation with several attorneys in addition to the 13th Judicial District Attorney.