The Cass County Sheriff's Department likely will be wearing body cameras when deputies are on patrol starting early next year.
Sheriff Jesse Jahner said Thursday night, Aug. 13, that the county board has tentatively approved spending $208,000 next year in the first of five payments on a three-pronged project that also involves new stun guns and in-vehicle cameras for the 205-employee department.
The department would join the Fargo Police Department, which is also planning to purchase cameras next year, in adding something the public wants, Jahner said. The Dilworth (Minn.) Police Department has used the cameras for about five years, while West Fargo has no plans at this time, according to city spokeswoman Mattie Hjelseth. She said West Fargo has dash cameras in all of their squad cars "that are serving us well."
The county plan calls for 50 body cameras, at a cost of about $700 per unit, for a total of about $35,000.
Jahner said there are 28 patrol officers that will be wearing them while on duty, while others will be for investigators when they are out on a case as well as some for the warrant and civil division.
The sheriff said the 105 jail deputies are surrounded by cameras in the facility so they won't be needing the cameras, although they will receive some of the new stun guns that some jailers use while on duty.
Axon Enterprise Inc., of Scottsdale, Ariz., will be providing the new system, which still needs final approval by the county board in October.
Jahner said he hopes deputies can be trained in the use of the body cameras early next year and then put the new devices to use.
"I said when I was campaigning for office in my platform two years ago that I wanted 100% transparency in the department," Jahner said.
He believes body cameras will help in meeting that goal for the public and that they will also be beneficial in providing better evidence when cases are prosecuted.
In addition, he said departments with body cameras also can sometimes secure more grant money to help with operations.
Jahner and his staff have been researching the use of various cameras, and he said his goal was to find one that was "as close to the human eye as possible" in its clarity and operation. He believes he has found it in the Axon cameras.
Jahner said the stun guns were reaching the end of their lifespan and needed to be replaced, while the new in-vehicle video cameras will also be tied into the new system.
Having the same company provide the three aspects of the package will save money in the long run, Jahner said, because with the current in-vehicle cameras, the department had to purchase more and more server space for storing recordings — was a huge chunk of money. That cost will be cut with the new system in later years, he said.
The contract with Axon calls for payments of $203,052 for the following four years after the initial 2021 payments. That includes the body cameras, in-car video equipment, training, docking stations and training, stun guns, cartridges, cloud-based storage and user licenses.