It’s surprising that it’s taken so long, but the Rock County Sheriff’s Office is getting body cameras for its patrol deputies and jail correctional officers.
It almost didn’t happen.
Sheriff Troy Knudson had applied for a $40,000 federal government grant that would have provided body cams for 20 deputies plus storage equipment and training. He learned the last week of October—after the Rock County Board was deep into its budgeting process—that his grant application had been denied.
“It might be easiest to put this on the back burner until next year’s budget process, and yet there’s been a lot of interest in us having this type of equipment, and it may justify moving forward before that,” Knudson said at the time.
Thankfully, a hot flame was kept under the issue.
Knudson last week addressed the county board during the public hearing on the budget and asked the board to add money to the 2021 budget for body cameras.
Mary Beaver, chairwoman of the board’s public safety and justice committee, worked with Knudson on the budget change.
People wrote letters to the county board.
“As a citizen of the county, I fully support this measure to ensure that we are prepared to avoid any use of excessive force and add a layer of important legal protection for our officers and citizens,” wrote Ron Watson, Beloit College professor of political science and health & society.
“Our community deserves this protection for officers and the public!” wrote Tracy Buck of Beloit.
“They can be instrumental in solving crimes and keeping people safe. Please amend the budget to include the sheriff’s proposal,” wrote Jessica Fox-Wilson, Beloit.
The county board Tuesday night added $454,000 to the 2021 budget for cameras to outfit 105 deputies and 91 correctional officers and for storage of the recordings. The amount also covers pay for an analyst to oversee the recordings, maintain the ones needed for evidence and edit videos for public records requests.
Knudson hopes deputies will be wearing body cameras by February.
The importance of body cameras is difficult to overstate. Kenosha police didn’t have body cameras, so there was no police recording when officers Aug. 23 shot and wounded Jacob Blake. The city erupted in protests.
The Janesville police officers have been wearing body cameras for years. Chief Dave Moore said this week body camera video helped the department sort through an Oct. 17 incident that resulted in a 16-year-old suffering a broken rib after being taken to the ground by an officer.
Moore said he was able to watch the video frame by frame to evaluate if the officer led to the ground with his knee and held the girl’s head and torso on the way down to minimize the risk of injury. Bottom line: Moore believes the video proves the officer did everything right.
The Rock County Sheriff’s Office has had cameras mounted on squad car dashboards for years, but they often miss the details of incidents.
Body cameras will provide an additional layer of protection for deputies and the people they deal with.