Hockley County, TX - This month the Hockley County Sheriff's Office is getting a technological upgrade. Following a national push for more law enforcement accountability, all five of their patrol officers and all twelve of their jailers will now be outfitted with body cameras.
The Justice Department has been encouraging law enforcement branches around the country to try out body cameras, in September they launched a 23 million dollar grant to help fund those cameras.
Captain Nolan Seaton with the Hockley County Sheriff's Office has spent nearly 30 years working in law enforcement and sees the national trend toward using body cameras as a positive thing.
"When I started it wasn't an issue of 'bad cops', I'm sure there were bad cops out there, but you didn't see or hear much about it because there weren't cameras to tell the story," Seaton explained.
For the last two years Seaton has been working to bring his staff a number of technological upgrades, including body cameras. It has taken months to determine the funding and logistics for these new department investments.
But as of November 2, patrol officers were already wearing chest-mounted body cameras. The patrol officers will also receive body cameras to be worn at eye-level.
Earlier this fall, HCSO was testing out body cameras in their jail.
"In September we put the cameras in and downloaded them into the computer system and that same day we had a fight (in the jail) and got the fight on video, and so having that video and the quality of that video, we said why don't we ramp up and get them for our officers on patrol?" explained Seaton.
He said that the body cameras for the five patrol officers cost the department a little over four thousand dollars.
HSCO said that the cameras will not only help them to gather footage at crime scenes and make their records more accurate, it will also hold the officers accountable for their behavior.
"In the society we live in, whether you have a camera or not, some one's gonna have a phone and they're going to be taking video," Seaton said.
HSCO officers are now expected to turn on their body cameras every day when they go to work. Seaton said that one of the biggest hurdles in implementing the new cameras is getting officers to remember to turn them on.
"To activate the camera you gotta hold it down for three seconds, well if you're in the middle of a battle you reach up and click it and go back to fighting, it's not gonna record it, because you didn't hold it for three seconds," Seaton explained.
Currently the officers manually download their body camera video, but with new technology coming to their office, the videos will soon download automatically, making them unalterable. These videos will automatically transfer to a secure network where they will be held for 120 days.
HCSO is using a COBAN body camera system which is compatible with the system they already use in their police vehicles.
With all the developments in body camera technology, HCSO expects to see even more changes in these cameras in the coming years.
"For the dash cameras, now they've evolved into cameras when you turn on your light bar, they automatically start recording, I see body cameras being the same way (in the future)" Seaton said.
Deputy Isaac Garza with HCSO says that he likes that the new cameras will help the public see what he goes through on a daily basis.
"With the camera active, it would show people exactly what we're dealing with at that time and if deadly force presents itself, then that's gonna be recorded to support our decision to use deadly force if needed," Garza said.
"I think it helps both us and the citizens that we deal with, and it's good to have because it gives that perspective of our day-to-day and I totally agree with having the camera, and I think it's a good idea. I think more agencies need to start going with them because they provide that backing," Garza added.
In addition to the body cameras HCSO has also been approved for a $4,800 grant to outfit it's officers with new bulletproof vests.
"I've been here eight years and I'm still using the same vest I was when I first got there," said Seaton.
Seaton added that the new vests are much more effective and transportable than their old ones.
HCSO has also been approved for a grant through the governor's office for $75,000 worth of computer aided dispatch technology.
"(Amongst) other area departments, we're the only ones who don't have that technology, (the governor's office) approved us for 75 thousand dollars so that we can be on the same level as everybody around us and get online," Seaton explained.
He said the new dispatching technology will be essential for keeping HCSO in communication with other regional law enforcement offices.
Seaton says that the new dispatch technology should all be operational within the next year and a half.
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