CCSO rolls out body cameras for deputies

Over the last month, the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office has rolled out body cameras for deputies on patrol.

Sheriff Jesse Slaughter said they have enough body cameras for every sworn officer in the department but detectives and administrative staff won’t typically wear them while they’re working in the office.

In May 2022, the County Commission voted to accept a $225,909 bid for body worn cameras from WatchGuard/Motorola.

He said the rollout took longer than anticipated but had rolled some out into the field at the beginning of the summer to test them and work through any kinds and fully rolled out the cameras over the last month.

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WatchGuard/Motorola is the current vendor for the camera systems in the CCSO patrol vehicles and Slaughter said that the new body worn cameras would integrate with that system.

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The new body worn cameras are being funded through a $100,000 body camera grant; $16,974 of the Justice Assistance Grant; and the county budget will cover the remaining $108,935.

Sheriff Jesse Slaughter told The Electric that the company would also conduct training for deputies when the cameras are deployed at CCSO.

Slaughter said his department developed a policy for the body cameras.

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In a Facebook video, Slaughter said the cameras are effective, but won’t always catch everything that a deputy is seeing during an incident, but that coupled with dashcam footage, would capture more of the scene in many instances.

He said that deputies were instructed to turn on their cameras in the field when practical and that sometimes they wouldn’t have time to turn them on and the batteries could die in some cases.

Slaughter said the cameras have been effective so far but asked the community to manage their expectations.

Slaughter told The Electric that footage from the cameras had already been used in a few reviews by the department’s use of force committee.

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Last year, Slaughter said the decision to purchase the cameras came out of project done through the lieutenant selection process that required the candidates to evaluate the implementation of body cameras and address:

  • Are body cams necessary? Is it feasible?
  • Start-up costs; yearly storage/maintenance costs; data storage?
  • Pros vs. cons of having body cameras; compatible with current WatchGuard system?
  • Are body cameras desired by our county attorney, deputies, etc.?
  • Any legal issues related to your proposal; sample policy?
  • Equipment proposed?

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Other sheriffs offices in Montana are already using body cameras, but they aren’t as common in those offices as police departments, Slaughter said.

The Great Falls Police Department does not currently use body cameras.

“Due to the cost of equipment, storage, retention and the other associated costs, it simply is not financially feasible for us at this point. We have no short or medium length plans at this point to go to [body cameras],” GFPD Chief Jeff Newton told The Electric in 2022.

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The lieutenant work project resulted found it “pretty resounding that it was a good idea that we do it,” Slaughter said.

Slaughter said last year that he goes back and forth on body cameras since the public perception of what they do and are used for isn’t typically accurate, but they do serve a purpose in providing additional information for investigations.

“I think they are an asset,” he said. “The deputies want them and believe in them.”