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NC jail implements body cameras for COs

“The mere presence of [the body camera] has a more secure effect for the officer,” a jail official said

By Jamie Biggs
The Courier Tribune

ASHEBORO, NC — Body cameras for on-duty detention officers have officially been implemented at the Randolph County Jail.

The detention center is the first division of the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office to receive the body cameras, and the second law enforcement agency in the county. The Liberty Police Department is the only other agency to arm its officers with the technology.

“It’s a big topic in law enforcement now — the body cameras,” Major Chris Toriello, who oversees the jail, said.

According to Toriello, through research and talking with other detention centers that have introduced body cameras, the Sheriff’s Office decided to contact Axon Enterprise Inc., the company through which their tasers are provided, in order to conduct a trial run with the body cameras in April.

“They left them with us for a month and we put it on two of our officers that are actively working,” Toriello said, “and immediately the officers came back after using and said that just the mere presence of it was having a more secure effect for the officer.”

Following the success of the trial run, officials at the jail knew they wanted to continue to have access to the cameras. Sheriff Robert Graves went before the county commissioners in July in order to request approval for the purchase of 20 body cameras and the necessary storage.

The memo from the July 9 County Commissioners meeting states:

“I am here today to request the expenditure of $74,009 in law enforcement restricted funds. The funds will be used to lease body cameras for our Detention Officers.”

According to Toriello, “law enforcement restricted funds” are asset forfeiture funds — money seized by the Sheriff’s Office during criminal investigation.

The sheriff’s request was approved, and on Nov. 8, a representative from Axon visited the jail in order to train staff. The detention officers were taught how to use the cameras, and the administrative staff learned how to log in and access the system in order to review and document evidence.

How do they work?

“A full shift has 13 personnel on the shift,” Toriello explained. “That’s a lieutenant, sergeant, corporal and then the detention officers. So all 10 detention officers will have (a body camera) on the day shift and then when they come in to report, or to check out, the incoming shift takes the extra 10 that are in the loading docks and uses those.

“The other cameras — as soon as they’re put in the docking station — automatically download all the content to our system … and then they’re fully charged.”

When an officer is wearing a body camera, the camera is constantly buffering, but recordings aren’t saved unless the camera is turned on. The previous 30 seconds of buffering are automatically saved with the video, allowing an officer to add to the video 30 seconds of what led to an event. Thirty seconds are also recorded after the officer manually stops the device from recording.

“So, besides the added cameras that we have hard-mounted in our pods and around the facility, these are audio and video and it gives a different perspective. It gives the perspective of the officer,” Toriello said.

The footage downloaded from the cameras at the end of each shift can be used as evidence if an incident warrants charges be filed, or if clarification of what happened is needed.

“We — as administrators — will go in and dismiss what we don’t need to keep, that way we keep the storage free. If there’s an incident and an incident report has happened, we get those reports, so we’ll know about the date and time that something may have happened, and was recorded, and we can go back and capture it and put it in an actual case file.

“When things happen, you might not see or hear everything,” Toriello said, “… but you can go back and reflect upon what you heard and saw to refresh your memory. … When things are happening, sometimes we can get focused on one and the camera can pick up other things.”

Reaction from inmates

The impact that the presence of the recording devices have on the attitude of the inmates is one reason for the decision to go through with the purchase of the body cameras.

“The inmates will pick up on anything new or different and immediately the inmates knew that this was a recording device,” Toriello said.

“The positive response we like to hear is that they don’t really like to talk to the officers because they feel like they’re constantly being recorded. So that’s kind of two-fold.”

According to Toriello, interaction between the inmates and the detention officers is important. There needs to be a communication between the two parties for a successful working relationship.

The inmates who stay quiet in the presence of the body cameras are inmates who were saying things they shouldn’t have.

“For the ones who choose not to talk as much, maybe they were using vulgarities, maybe they weren’t treating others with respect,” Toriello said.

He says affrays and arguments will always still happen in jails, but that the cameras are instrumental is either putting a stop to conflict or capturing it so that the incident is well documented.

The future

The contract between Axon and the Randolph County Jail lasts for three years. After that, the contract will need to be renewed in order to continue the use of the cloud memory storage system.

Though the full impact of the implentation of the body cameras has likely yet to be realized, Toriello hopes that the jail’s success with the body cameras will be influential and result in greater access to the cameras within Randolph County law enforcement.

The body cameras have proved their value at the jail, and Toriello thinks they could prove to be just as useful for patrol officers.

“My hope is that the cameras do so well here that other divisions and agencies can get them,” he said.