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Marathon County Sheriff’s Office anticipates introducing bodycams in 2021

Published: Aug. 5, 2020 at 7:04 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - The Marathon County Sheriff’s Office is planning to introduce bodycams for their deputies as part of their 2021 budget, the department noted in an educational presentation for the county Public Safety committee meeting Wednesday.

The introduction comes while all county departments are being asked to keep their budgets for 2021 from increasing, county administrator Lance Leonhard said, due to the financial constraints from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The department has been planning for bodycams next year since before the pandemic, as well as upgrading what Captain Sean McCarthy described as an archaic and outdated squad video system.

“I think there’s a public expectation that police departments, sheriff’s offices are transparent. And one way to be transparent is to have the actual body cam footage available during incidents,” McCarthy said.

Body camera systems are costly, not just in upfront cost but in the monthly storage price tags for the video, which can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. That’s one reason many smaller departments in the area and across the nation don’t have them, according to a study published in 2018 by the U.S. Department of Justice, which also found that 47% of all law enforcement agencies had body cameras in 2016 (and about 30% of both sheriff’s offices and police departments planned to consider them within a year.)

For the system the MCSO is looking at, there would be no upfront costs and the charges would be annual.

“We would enter into a software-as-a-service (SAAS) agreement in which we would pay for the software/cloud storage and lease the physical bodycams and squad video systems,” McCarthy noted. “A rough annual estimate would be $150,000.”

For law enforcement, McCarthy indicates there’s other concerns.

“Body cams are great but you don’t always get the full perception of everything the person wearing that camera is getting,” he explained.

Attorney General Josh Kaul recently told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he wanted the state to help fund body cameras for all law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin who didn’t already have them. Earlier in 2020, Wisconsin passed a law requiring law enforcement agencies to keep their body cam footage for extended periods of time, which also increases overall storage costs for departments. If the department is successful in implementing them in 2021, Marathon County deputies would join just a few other departments in northern and central Wisconsin who have body cameras, including the Wausau Police Department which introduced them a few years back.

Ultimately, the MCSO says it’s about introducing more transparency for the people they’re responsible for serving.

“I think public safety is paramount and I think that’s a big level of concern for citizens,” McCarthy noted.

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