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Ottawa County still pursuing body cameras

By Jordan Climie/The Holland Sentinel • Mar 9, 2017 at 12:00 PM

The Ottawa County Sheriff's Department is moving forward with making body cameras a part of the uniform for its deputies, but the timetable is still up in the air.

"It's sometimes easier said than done," Sheriff Steve Kempker said. "The biggest thing we're looking at is data storage. We're looking at our IT, looking at solutions that some manufacturers offer like cloud services. ... The biggest issues are all the tech questions, and what are the answers."

Some of those questions deal with the size of the sheriff's office, which is spread over several locations. Kempker used the Grand Rapids Police Department as an example, where officers all work out of a central location to download the information taken through body cameras.

Also, a smaller community might only have eight or nine officers, whereas Ottawa County has a much larger force.

"How do we download that data from our remote locations?" Kempker said. "We know we can't run it through the dispatch system — there's not enough bandwidth and it will bog (it) down."

To deal with those questions, Kempker said that conversations with other law enforcement agencies are ongoing, including locally with the Holland Department of Public Safety. He said that some of the systems out there for body camera storage talk to each other, and he would like to make sure his department could easily work with other local law enforcement in the area.

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests don't seem to be an issue, however, as Kempker points out there is software that will allow something redacted in the first frame of a video to be redacted throughout. However, that ever-changing technology is also an issue, and Kempker doesn't want to buy a system now that will soon be outdated.

Whatever the choice for the Ottawa County Sheriff's Department, there's still a need for additional staffing with the technology.

"We know that it's going to also entail hiring somebody to manage the system," Kempker said. "You have that much stuff coming in from officers."

Kempker knows it will happen, however. "It's a service we owe to the community," he said.

Allegan County Sheriff Frank Baker said his department has looked into body cameras on their deputies, but the cost and concerns with the ramifications of FOIA requests has put the issue on the backburner, for now at least.

"It's something that we'd like to be able to do," Baker said. "It looks like the cost is going to be prohibitive and staffing costs are limiting (us)."

Baker added that there was an individual who came forward willing to donate the cameras to the department, but even then, staffing and FOIA became a bigger issue.

"Someone's got to review that video, someone's got to find out what's protected information so we're not (infringing) on people's rights,” he said. “Staff time is involved to do that, and we don't want to pull our people off the roads."

Baker said they have "certainly" had instances where body cameras would have come in handy.

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