Sheriff's Department answers questions about body cameras

Tim Howard and sheriff's department meets with County Legislature

Mike Baggerman
March 14, 2019 - 3:26 pm

WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) - Body cameras were the subject of Thursday's Public Safety Committee meeting in the Erie County Legislature.

Members of the Erie County Sheriff's Office, including Sheriff Tim Howard, were pressed about why the department hasn't implemented body cameras despite mounting pressure to continue to implement the technology.

The department for 12 months in 2017 used Axon Body Cameras as part of its body cameras pilot program. Throughout this process, the sheriff's department highlighted how the use of these cameras helped them better learn the technology involved with the use of the cameras and also the costs associated with it. Howard said that the cost of it is roughly $1 million over a five-year period.

"The union is open minded to this," Howard said. "They probably recognize there are benefits and where the data is prematurely released or not taken into the totality of the circumstance, there could be negative, inappropriate consequences as well...We are not doing any active negotiations with the union about the deployment of cameras."

Howard said there has been efforts to try and find grants but isn't aware of any that could cover the full cost of cameras. He said he heard of some that offer half the total cost at most. 

Concerns for the use of body cameras from the sheriff's office include public perception of videos taken out of context because of small clips. Advocates for the body cameras said its use will allow for more transparency.

After the meeting, Howard said he believes the sheriff's office and the legislature are on the same page on body cameras.

"We are not opposed to body-worn cameras," he said. "When there's only so much money out there, where is it best spent? I think they were probably surprised to know how infrequent force is used with the sheriff's office and the absence of citizens complaints documented that. The cameras definitely have a benefit but it's taxpayer money we're talking about here. What is the real cost savings that would result from this? To take money away from some other initiative, is the where it would be best spent?"

April Baskin, chair of the Public Safety Committee, said it was a productive meeting and learned that the department is interested in helping the legislature secure funds to get body cameras in the future. 

"Body cams are a common practice nationally," Baskin said. "I believe Erie County is behind the ball when it comes to providing this type of transparency for the public and the road deputies. It is something we need to catch up to with the rest of the country."

Baskin said they are going to look for some answers on funding and plan to meet again with the department after they get those answers. 

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