Eagle County Sheriff’s Office to use body cameras by fall
Office is last law enforcement agency to comply with new state law
The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office aims to become the final law enforcement agency in the Vail Valley to implement body-worn cameras for deputies by the fall.
After getting the stamp of approval from the Eagle Board of County Commissioners last month, the agency has now entered the contract negotiation process with Axon, the largest supplier of body cameras in the United States.
“I’m excited about it,” Eagle County Undersheriff Dan Loya said Thursday. “It’s the world we live in today. It’s part of modernizing our law enforcement, and our valley, and our agency.”
The sheriff’s office has been looking into purchasing body cameras for its deputies for quite some time now, but the size of the agency makes it a considerably costly endeavor, Loya said.
When the Colorado state legislature began work on a bill mandating the use of body cameras by all law enforcement agencies, the sheriff’s office decided to wait and see if the mandate would come with funding to support the move, Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek said last month.
Senate Bill 217 passed last summer as an unfunded mandate, with the exception of $617,478 in highway users tax fund dollars given to the Colorado State Patrol.
The bill sets a deadline of July 1, 2023, for compliance and outlines penalties for agencies and officers who fail to use body cameras after this date.
“We don’t have a choice about doing this,” van Beek told Eagle County Commissioners during a presentation at their June meeting. “We have to go forward with this, and we will do everything we possibly can to control the costs.”
The body camera program is expected to cost about $600,000 over the next five years, a number which does not include the personnel costs associated with managing and reviewing the footage, van Beek said.
Ultimately, the money for the cameras, the necessary video storage capacity and the additional staff member will be coming out of the county’s general fund, Loya said. The sheriff’s office is looking into grant opportunities in the hopes of taking some of this burden off local taxpayers.
The hardware that deputies will wear is lightweight, about the size of a deck of cards, and can be mounted on a uniform, van Beek said in his presentation to county commissioners. The Axon brand cameras were selected because of their durability and long battery life.
The sheriff’s office purchased about 65 cameras to cover deputies working for the office as well as in the county’s detention facility, Loya said.
Axon’s technology also provides the options of sharing video files between departments, opening up more ease of evidence sharing across local agencies, according to the presentation.
Eagle, Vail and Avon Police Departments have had Axon brand body cameras in place for years, spokespersons for the departments said. The Aspen Police Department, which started experimenting with cameras in 2013, decided in 2019 to have all officers wear cameras.
The Eagle Police Department made the move in early 2015, Eagle Police Chief Joe Staufer said in a written statement Friday.
The Vail Police Department followed suit in 2016, and police commander Ryan Kenney said the cameras have served as another valuable tool they can use in serving the community better.
“It definitely is a definitive answer a lot of the times when we need it if there’s a question or a doubt about what happened,” Kenney said.
Body-worn cameras allow law enforcement agencies to identify unethical officers but also helps to settle claims made against officers more efficiently and serves as strong evidence in court, Staufer said.
The bill not only makes it a criminal offense for officers not to wear body cameras, but officers that forget to turn their cameras on during a call also can receive criminal charges, according to the statute.
This has pushed most local departments to invest in an upgrade available through Axon, which programs various triggers to automatically turn on body cameras.
Axon has been good about “responding very quickly to legislative changes,” Kenney said. As more state and local governments pass measures requiring the use of body cameras, the company came up with a solution for officers who may forget to turn their devices on in the heat of the moment.
The sheriff’s office is considering this offering as well, Loya said.
Senate Bill 217 was born of last summer’s protests calling for more transparency and accountability in law enforcement. Body cameras were seen as a logical first step, Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, said in June of last year.
“The pace of the bill is moving fast, but because the ideas are not new … the reason it has broad bipartisan support is because we all recognize that the protests outside of this Capitol building are making it very clear that we need to do something,” Roberts said then.
The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office aims to have its body-worn cameras in place by the fall, but the timeline will depend on how long it takes for the county’s attorneys to review and approve their contract with Axon, Loya said.
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