In response to a sharp spike
in inmate assaults on officers, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office is outfitting some correctional officers in the jail with body-worn cameras that it hopes will increase safety.
According to Capt. Duane Christian, the office purchased 14 cameras — seven to be worn on day shifts and seven on night shifts in the jail’s celled housing units. These units generally house the jail’s higher security inmates and have also been the locations of most assaults on officers.
Christian said outfitting correctional officers in the jail’s dormitory-style housing units would have been too costly at this time, noting that the sheriff’s office has committed $90,000 for the purchase and maintenance of the cameras — and legally required storage of the footage — for five years.
While the press release from the sheriff’s office touted the cameras tools to enhance safety in the jail, Christian said they will also be used to collect evidence for potential prosecutions of illegal activity within the jail and also as a means to vet allegations of employee misconduct.
The cameras will not be used in the medical wing or in the jail’s pat-down room, where officers conduct intake interviews with people being booked into the jail. Christian said this is for two reasons.
“One is HIPAA privacy for the inmates and the other is the hope that if an inmate is experiencing a medical emergency, such as ingesting drugs, they would not be hesitant to tell the nurse out of fear of receiving additional charges,” he wrote in an email to the Journal
. “The inmates’ safety is most important in those situations.”
While Sheriff William Honsal has long stated that he hopes to outfit his patrol deputies with body-worn cameras, the costs associated with purchasing another 50 cameras and storing all recorded footage for the legally required two years is high and has thus far proven prohibitive. Based on the cost of the 14 cameras for a portion of the jail’s staff, outfitting the entire patrol division could cost more than $300,000.
Additionally, Honsal said there are some other challenges. A full rollout of body-worn cameras would require that resident deputies and others working in remote areas be able to upload massive amounts of footage to cloud storage, which necessitates high-speed internet connections. The sheriff’s office would also need to dedicate one or two full-time staff positions to editing and redacting video footage to be used in court or released to the public, Honsal said, adding that some other agencies have “gotten themselves in trouble” by deploying body-worn cameras without fully understanding what the costs and staff demands would be.
Nonetheless, Honsal said he sees today’s announcement as the first phase of a tiered implementation he hopes will ultimately see all his deputies wearing cameras.
“It’s a great testing platform,” he said, adding that he hopes to review the program in a year or so with an eye toward planning a full, department-wide deployment of the technology.
And, Honsal added, the cameras in the jail are already having an impact. He says assaults on officers have decreased in the two months or so officers have been using them.
See the full press release from the sheriff's office copied below:
The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office is pleased to announce the successful implementation of body-worn cameras in the Humboldt County Correctional Facility.
Axon body-worn cameras are now being implemented in the Correctional Facility’s secured housing areas. As part of the body-worn camera program, correctional deputies on all shifts working in a secured housing unit are required to wear a camera. These cameras record any time the deputy is in an inmate zone, with exception to zones regulated by HIPAA statues. Camera recordings are available for live viewing by supervisors and are uploaded to cloud storage daily.
By being able to provide video documentation of interactions between facility staff and inmates, the body-worn cameras are helping to improve safety for all within the facility.
“Safety is what these cameras are all about,” Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal said. “Not only are they helping protect our correctional deputies from assaults and other incidents, by being able to go back and review video, our deputies are able to receive better training when it comes to interacting with inmates safely.”
The Correctional Facility began testing the body-worn cameras September 2018. Implementation of the program began in late March of this year.