DALLAS — Deputies for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office have a new tool in their arsenal when interacting with the public. Sticking up out of their utility vest pocket is the eye of their new body cameras.
Unlike the blocky CammPro used by many law enforcement agencies that only records interactions, Polk County Sheriff Mark Garton chose to go with cell phones that offer multiple functions.
“They’re regular phones, waterproof, a rugged type, that still work as a regular cell phone, with software that allows video to work,” Garton explained. “They work like the typical body cam, but these you can pick up and make it a phone, too. Typically, you keep it in a pocket with the top part with the camera sticking out.”
The PCSO started transitioning to the use of the cell phone/body cam in January and by the first of February Garton said all of his deputies, supervisors and detectives were equipped with one. The PCSO paid for the 24 cameras out of its regular budget and has to pay $50 a month per device, or $1,200 total per month, Garton said.
Like regular body cams, the cell phone cameras are initiated upon contact with a person, Garton said. However, unlike regular body cams, PCSO’s cameras can also take evidence photos and make audio recordings. These images and audio tracks are all stored within evidence system that is automatically loaded by secure encryption to the PCSO computer, instead of to a memory card.
In addition to use on patrol, Garton said the phones/body cams also have several handy uses on the administrative side, such as analytic options that keep track of where everybody is at all times.
“If the need is there, we can activate the camera remotely. If it’s not on and a deputy is not responding, we can turn it on and see if he or she OK,” Garton said.
In addition, he said when there is a significant event, like an active shooter, the sheriff’s office has the ability to live stream from whoever is there and send the video back to the command post, the sheriff’s office or phone.
“It gives us on the ground intel really quickly,” he said.
The admin functions can also essentially track where deputies spend their time throughout day, Garton said, via a Heatmap, based on amount they drive.
“For example, the Highway 22 region will be lit up on a fleer image, showing if they spend more time certain areas than others,” Garton said. “So, if someone in Falls City says we’re never out there, we can confirm how much time is actually spent out there.”
After the phones were acquired, Garton said it took only a little training to get staff caught up on policy and procedures, how and when to turn them on and off, depending upon who deputies are interviewing. For example, during domestic violence interactions, Garton said recordings are paused, based on who a deputy is talking to. In addition, the phones have a function to blur out images during interactions to protect identities, if needed.