By JILL TATGE-ROZELL
County Board supervisors on Tuesday got a first-hand look at the new body and squad cameras now employed by the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department — which have already have been used to collect more than 17,000 pieces of evidence.
Footage of the widely publicized Sunday traffic stop involving a self-driving Tesla on Interstate 94, in which the operator allegedly fell asleep behind the wheel, was collected by the new system.
“It’s already paying dividends of proving what we’re trying to do when we make a traffic stop,” Sheriff David Beth said, regarding the first three weeks of use of the cameras.
During Tuesday night’s Kenosha County Board Committee of the Whole meeting, Sheriff’s Sgt. Chase Forster said that every sheriff squad has been equipped with a new camera and every deputy and correctional officer now has a body camera. The cameras are manufactured by BodyWorn by Utility. KCSD is the first in the state to use this system.
“This is far beyond what I had in mind,” County Board Supervisor Zach Rodriguez said after seeing all of the features. “I think this is more transparent.”
The cameras are always on, but certain actions trigger the recording:
The squad cameras will begin recording when the light bar is activated or when the squad reaches a speed of 90 mph, for example.
Instances when the body camera will automatically begin recording include when a deputy opens the door of a squad car, drives within a .2-mile radius of a call, begins running on foot or takes a gun out of its holster.
Both the squad camera and the body cameras will begin recording when the gun lock is released to retrieve the rifle in the squad.
“There are a lot of fail-safes and different triggers in the system to help capture those really important moments so we don’t miss anything,” Forster said.
Each time the recording starts, it also automatically picks up the previous 30 seconds of video. Deputies can also manually start and stop recording using a wristwatch. When recording stops, the video is automatically downloaded as evidence, complete with the case number of the call and classified by call type.
“It’s going to help out officers prove, most of the time, they’ve done exactly what they were supposed to do,” Beth said. “And, once in a while, if they goof up, we’re going to know that too. It’s going to keep everyone a little more honest.”
In the correctional facility, body cameras are in near constant recording mode as they are to be used any time there is potential for inmate contact.
A feature of the new squad cameras will provide video of the back seat and the rear of transport vans for the first time. Beth said people who are arrested and inmates in transport often make claims about treatment in these scenarios.
“We’re going to be able to pull that up and see if that person is accurate in what they said,” Beth said.
‘Chain of custody’
Supervisors working remotely can see on a computer screen where each camera is located on a map, if it is on, and can click on it to watch livestream video. A “chain of custody” log will track who views the recording and when.
When demonstrating this livestream feature, Forster noted there were nine deputies with body cameras on at a call for family trouble. Due to the nature of the call, Forster did not show the livestream to the County Board. Instead, previously recorded traffic stops were shown.
Forster said the supervisor can also turn on the body camera remotely — an action that sends a message to the deputy that recording has been activated. This feature will help alert the department if an officer is in peril or incapacitated.
“Just knowing where all the deputies are and are they okay,” Beth said. “That will be a great benefit to us too.”
Forster said the system also turns data from the system into analytics that show how many of each type of call have required response. This can be used to identify trends, such as an uptick in burglaries, he said.