CHEEKTOWAGA, NY — The Erie County Sheriff's Office has become the latest law enforcement agency to get body cameras for some of its patrol units.
In an announcement at the Erie County Fire Training Academy in Cheektowaga Wednesday, a group of deputies learned about the mechanics of the body cameras, storage capabilities and how to playback video.
The test period will allow for 12 body cameras, docking stations and data storage. The cameras will be worn by deputies at the Rath Building and deputies who are on patrol in Districts 1-4, which includes Grand Island, Clarence, Alden, Elma and Colden — not included are North Collins and Springville. Some deputies have volunteered to wear the body cameras.
"We really look forward to this formal test period and learning the capabilities of the cameras and the evidence storage systems," explained Sheriff Tim Howard.
The Sheriff's Office says after the test period of 60 days is over, the program could expand to more body cameras, if funding is made available and if officials believe more are needed. Sheriff Howard says his office will work to learn how much the program will cost and if it's feasible.
The Sheriff's Office has purchased the body cameras through Axon Body Camera.
We should also mention that this is an election year for Sheriff Howard.
REPORTER: Some may question that, hey we're three weeks out from an election and now's the perfect time to make such an announcement, what's your response to that?
"People are going to say what they're going to say I've experienced that for 40 years, the timing has nothing to do with the election," Howard said.
But for now, county jails are not included in the program.
REPORTER: How come the body cameras are not being immediately deployed to the jails?
"Well, we start somewhere right? And, we have a number of cameras, we already have fixed cameras in the jail," Howard said.
REPORTER: But sir, there have been incidents inside the jails, why not have greater transparency inside the jails and therefore deploy these body cameras inside the jails?
"Because we have fixed cameras already in the jail and as to your transparency in the jail we have transparency in the jail," Howard said.That doesn't sit well with the Erie County Prisoners Rights Coalition. They're concerned about incidents such as the one that involved Richard Metcalf, Jr. in 2012. A report from the state commission of correction says deputies in the holding center caused Metcalf's death by applying an unauthorized device called a spit mask on him. The sheriff's office says Metcalf brought on his own death with erratic behavior. The Cattaraugus County DA's office was named to lead an independent investigation, which is continuing.
"The areas that they're talking about deploying the cameras are not the areas where they're really needed where's there's been suspicion of misconduct like in the jail itself," said Baba Eng, the program director for the Erie County Prisoners Rights Coalition.Sheriff Howard says he's in favor of expanding body cameras to the jails under one condition: that another agency pay for them.
The Sheriff's Office says that it will test out the body cameras from 60 days and then decide whether to continue, expand or stop using body cameras. Sheriff Howard says a number of factors will be considered from costs of the program to the equipment itself. Meantime, Buffalo Police say they'll begin testing body cameras in about a month.