A Washington County Sheriff's Office deputy. Photo: WCSO

The Washington County Board of Commissioners is taking a step toward requiring county Sheriff’s deputies to wear body cameras.

The board unanimously approved a motion, as an amendment to the county’s current 2020-21 budget proposal, to allocate funding to the Sheriff’s office for the five-year, $1.3 million program. 

Board Chair Kathryn Harrington brought forward a proposal to appropriate $274,446, as the first of five annual payments, which would come from the county’s general fund and ensure the funds will be available for the program without delay in the months ahead. 

A statement released by the Board regarding the body-worn camera program says that in light of ongoing nationwide concerns about police and the use of force, the Board of Commissioners is committed to supporting professionalism, accountability, and the transparency of its local public safety system. 

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“Spending will not be authorized until early this fall after the board has had an opportunity to hear from the community more on this aspect of policing,” said Philip Bransford, communications officer for Washington County. “Plans are underway now to shape how this community dialogue will unfold, but details (are not yet available).”

In 2016, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office began researching, planning, and training for its patrol division wearing body-worn cameras. 

Sheriff’s office Communications Sergeant Daniel DiPietro said there was no specific incident in Washington County that spurred it to begin facilitating the move to all sheriff’s patrol deputies wearing body cameras.  

“In 2015, there were national and state conversations that brought forth changes (to policing in Oregon),” DiPietro said. “That launched many of our state agencies to look into body-worn cameras for enhancing public trust by preserving factual representations of deputy interactions with the community in the form of video and audio recordings.”

Washington County currently has 30 body-worn cameras in use by patrol deputies. Camera, service, and alterations to uniforms will cost $5,000 per deputy, and $3,000 per vehicle, DiPietro said.

The cameras will be purchased through Decatur, Georgia-based company Utility Associates, which makes equipment and software for law enforcement and transportation agencies. The company’s products include in-car video, mobile routers, mobile digital multimedia evidence management systems, and situational awareness software solutions, as well as body cameras. 

The board of commissioners expressed its “desire to hear from communities of color and members of historically marginalized groups between now and September to allow an opportunity for deeper community conversations about the body-worn camera program, the county statement says. 

“I’m grateful for the board's decision to fund this program, which will allow the Sheriff’s Office Patrol Division to fully implement the use of body-worn cameras,” Harrington said. “I’m also thankful that the board is in agreement that we take this time to engage our community about body-worn cameras before moving forward.” 

More information about the body-worn camera program is available online here