SIERRA VISTA — If you come in contact with a Cochise County Sheriff’s deputy for any reason, be assured your encounter will now be recorded.
For the last two weeks, deputies have been wearing Axon body cameras on the front of their uniforms. So far, 60 deputies are outfitted with the cameras, mounted inside a small black box. That includes members of the Sheriff’s Street Crimes and K-9 units, Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carol Capas said.
While the cameras have been in use for two weeks, a written departmental policy on how to use them has not been finalized, however.
Capas said the policy is in draft form and should be completed soon. A written policy on the use of the cameras dictates when a body camera should be turned on and off, for example. A policy also includes a retention schedule for body camera video and whether the video is public record, among other things.
Sierra Vista Police officers have been wearing their body cameras for two and a half years and their policy states that officers must turn them on the moment they have a call for service or are interacting with the public, said Chief Adam Thrasher.
Although the policy has not been formally finalized, Sheriff Mark Dannels said his department’s policy mirrors Sierra Vista’s.
That means when a deputy answers a call for service or comes in contact with the public, the body camera must be turned on. It cannot be turned off until the call ends.
“We wanted a consistent policy (in the county),” the sheriff said.
Over the last several years, there have been stories in the media regarding law enforcement officers across the country who responded to calls for service that went awry and later had no body camera video to show for it because the officer did not turn on the body camera.
Capas said the body cameras will eventually turn on automatically anytime they’re within 30 feet of an activated Taser. Currently only detention officer’s body cameras have that capability though.
She said that “for the most part,” deputies have embraced the technology.
“Being in rural Cochise County there’s a lot of times you’re by yourself,” Capas said. “On a traffic stop, you’re by yourself. If you go to any type of a call that could turn into something completely different than what you anticipated, it’s a good thing to have them.”
“Some (deputies) were so excited they got their own body cameras,” Capas added. “As long as you understand the dynamic and the purpose of it — which is to keep them (deputies) safe and to keep the citizens safe, everybody seems to be good with that.”
A handful of Sierra Vista officers, also enthused about body cameras, purchased their own before the department got them officially, Thrasher said. The agency also has 60 body cameras — one for every uniformed cop up to the rank of lieutenant and one for every investigator, the chief said.
And so far, so good.
“I absolutely love it,” said Sierra Vista Police Cpl. Scott Borgstadt, who is also the agency’s spokesman. “It catches absolutely everything that goes on. They help eliminate a lot of complaints we were getting.”
Borgstadt said the department has sometimes fielded complaints that an officer was rude, for example. The body camera video would then show differently in the officer’s favor. Of course that could work in the reverse in favor of someone who comes in contact with an officer, Borgstadt said.
One of the effects the cameras have is that they seem to help change a person’s behavior, Borgstadt said.
“People will see the camera and they’ll ask, ‘Is that recording?’” Borgstadt said. “It changes the way they act.”