CARES Act funds used to buy new equipment
All patrol deputies with the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office and corrections deputies in the jail are now equipped with body cameras that record interactions with the public.
The Sheriff’s Office purchased 48 cameras – 32 for patrol deputies and 16 for the jail, Okanogan County Sheriff Tony Hawley said. Deputies have been using the cameras since their training in the technology at the end of April. The corrections deputies will share the cameras, using them when on shift, Hawley said.
In the past, the Sheriff’s Office has had video cameras in some patrol vehicles and some smaller body cameras, but the new cameras are much more capable, lightweight and rugged, Hawley said.
The cameras are activated automatically through a patrol vehicle’s Bluetooth system when the officer turns on the flashing emergency lights. The deputy can also manually activate the camera. Sheriff’s Office policy requires the deputies to use the cameras, Hawley said.
Because the camera is always on a looped standby, it also captures a video-only recording of the 30 seconds before an officer manually activates the camera.
The audio-video recordings will be downloaded at the end of every shift. They will be categorized by the type of incident, such as traffic stop, arrest, or use of force, Hawley said.
This technology “will be a valuable tool in accurately documenting events, actions, conditions, and statements made during investigations, interviews, arrests and critical incidents,” Hawley said in a press release. “While they will not capture all that a deputy may notice, this will enhance their ability to document investigations, incidents and interactions with both video and audio recordings.”
The videos will help provide a fuller picture of an interaction, particularly if there is use of force, Hawley said. “Having [deputies’] interactions recorded will allow for absolute transparency during their daily interactions with the public,” Hawley said in the press release.
The cameras will back up and enhance a police report and will give a jury a more complete picture of an interaction, Hawley said. The footage will also be helpful in debriefing critical incidents and in trainings, Hawley said.
The videos recorded so far show that most deputies are acting professionally and that most citizens are being cooperative, Hawley said. Because a deputy must tell an individual that the contact is being recorded, the cameras have helped some people to calm down, Hawley said.
Recordings from police cameras have become an important component of law enforcement, particularly as bystanders increasingly use their phones to videotape incidents.
Required by new law
The cameras will also enable the Sheriff’s Office to comply with a law passed this year that goes into effect in January. While the law doesn’t mandate cameras, they’re the only way to record certain contacts and interviews, Hawley said.
The law requires law enforcement officers to electronically record custodial interrogations of a juvenile or when related to a felony when the interrogation is conducted at a jail or other place of detention. Custodial interrogations are designed to elicit an incriminating response from a person in custody. The person being interrogated has the right to refuse to be recorded, according to the Legislative staff report of the bill.
The Sheriff’s Office started working on the purchase of body cameras in December. The office used money from the federal CARES Act for COVID relief for the $291,000 purchase of the cameras and related software. The purchase qualified because the cameras allow the deputies to maintain more distance during interviews, Hawley said.
Most police departments aren’t using these cameras yet, in part because of the expense, Hawley said.
The recordings will be subject to public records requests.
FATAL POLICE SHOOTING INVESTIGATION COMPLETE
The investigation of a March 2020 fatal shooting involving three Okanogan County Sheriff’s deputies and one Omak Police detective in Riverside was completed last month by a special investigative unit.
The Okanogan County prosecutor is reviewing the investigation to see if there are grounds for charging any of the officers. The Sheriff’s Office is doing its own review to make sure all policies were followed, Sheriff Tony Hawley said.
Ryan Bass, age 39, was shot by the officers after he allegedly shot several rounds at them, according to the account of the incident. Two deputies and the Omak detective returned fire, striking Bass, according to the North Central Washington Special Investigation Unit (SIU), which conducted an independent investigation at the request of Okanogan County Sheriff Tony Hawley. Bass died from his injuries in the hospital.
Bass was being sought for multiple felony warrants for failing to appear in Okanogan County Superior Court on a felony warrant and for a burglary in Omak, according to the SIU.
The deputies were placed on a short administrative leave but are all back at work, Hawley said.