Body Cams are newest tool in the Highlands Police Dept. arsenal

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that by 2016, nearly 50 percent of all law enforcement agencies in the country had acquired body-worn cameras (BWCs). That figure is predicated to be closer to 60 percent now as more federal and state funds have become available for agencies to purchase the equipment.  

The Highlands Police Department utilizes both BWC and in-car cameras for their patrol vehicles. According to Highlands Police Chief Bill Harrell, his department has utilized cameras since 2015. The main reasons, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, that local police and sheriffs’ offices had acquired BWCs were to improve officer safety, increase evidence quality, reduce civilian complaints, and reduce agency liability.

Chief Harrell believes those reasons are evident within his own department. 

“They [cameras] have exonerated complaints or pointed out better practices, but more especially, training awareness for pubic and Officers safety,” said Chief Harrell.

Highlands Police Officer Eryn Sueyklang looks at the cameras as an extra layer of protection. 

“It protects us and everyone we deal with,” said Sueyklang. “It protects us and them and with the footage there’s no question as to what happens.”

Highlands Police Officer Eryn Sueyklang’s body camera attached to her uniform. She is also pictured at the top of the article.

While cameras prove to be beneficial for both the department and the general public, the cost associated with the technology makes the acquisition difficult. When asked what the greatest challenge is regarding the cameras, Harrell noted the cost specifically.

“Costs as technology advances at a rapid pace,” said Chief Harrell. 

Highlands purchased the second wave of cameras for the department last year, and according to Highlands Finance Director Rebecca Shuler the cameras were purchased in part with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, Governor’s Crime Commission Grant. Last year’s grant purchased nine cameras at around $8,000 per camera. The entire grant totaled $73,879.78. Shuler said she is unsure how Highlands purchased cameras prior to last year’s grant, but if cameras have been utilized since 2015, she said she assumed they were purchased with a similar grant. Shuler said as of last year, there is no upkeep, maintenance, or upgrade costs budgeted for the cameras in the town’s budget, so she is unsure what the sustainability  cost of the cameras will be. 

“We do not have an annual upkeep/replacement as we just got them and haven’t had any upkeep or replacement,” said Shuler. “All the upkeep/replacement will be done in house through our IT Dept. and they stated they didn’t have any estimates of anything until they’d had them awhile.”

The Macon County Sheriff’s Office was awarded a grant last year to purchase BWCs and is currently in the process of testing out different models to decide what works best for the entire department. 

“We are continuing to look at various kinds of In-Car cameras and Body Cam units that are compatible with one another and looking at ways to fund these items,” said Sheriff Robert Holland. “Both types of equipment are a necessity in today’s law enforcement world but funding is incredibly difficult.”

Holland said part of the delay in immediately deploying cameras is that he wants to roll out the cameras for the entire department, not just a specific unit or certain people. 

“We currently have the $65,000 that was awarded to us from the Legislature but as I have said that will only pay for a portion of the equipment and officers,” said Holland. “The biggest hold up we currently have is making sure that when we spend the very large amount of money that this will cost, we must be sure it is equipment that will last. The last thing we want to do is spend money on equipment that isn’t going to last.”

One of the greatest costs associated with BWCs is how the data or recorded video is stored. There have been lawsuits around the country regarding the storage of data recorded by the cameras. Because of that, Sheriff Holland said that he wants to ensure that the video footage is stored locally rather than by a third-party source. While storing the footage locally will cost more initially, from a long-term perspective and a legality standpoint, the MCSO will be better off. 

“We also cannot rely on an outside source for collection of all the data (video recordings) which is classified as evidence,” said Holland. “We have learned there are agencies who have been in legal battles trying to recover their video evidence due to no longer contracting with outside sources maintaining ICLOUD storage for their video evidence. Agency heads have stated that utilizing outside sources to maintain video from body cams is cost prohibitive.”

For that reason, and several others, Highlands Police Department stores all of the evidence locally, utilizing a dedicated serve the town of Highlands already owned. 

Article by Brittney Lofthouse
Photos by Brian O’Shea
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