First-person policing

The city of Hermiston spent $70,000 in late 2014 to give its police department lapel-mounted mounted body cameras for its officers. Umatilla County Sheriff Terry Rowan said the costs associated with the cameras are what delayed his department from adding them until 2020.

As calls for police accountability reach each corner of the country, the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office is preparing to outfit its deputies with body-worn cameras.

“I believe there’s been a lot of commentary in the press and so on about the use of the body cameras and the need for departments to have that available,” Umatilla County Commissioner Bill Elfering said at a county meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 2. “I think we have some liability outstanding if we don’t have it, and I think it significantly adds to the professionalism of our department.”

In preparation for the cameras, the Umatilla County Board of Commissioners approved the sheriff’s office to purchase additional equipment for $24,185 that will expand its server space to store footage and software to redact portions of the footage. It will be the first update to the sheriff’s office server system for police footage since it was implemented with the department’s in-car video system in 2012.

“It’s going to be essential to have a server that’s sufficient to cover both of those,” Capt. Dave Williams said at the Sept. 2 meeting.

Hermiston Police Department has been using body cameras since 2015. Police Chief Jason Edmiston said in a recent interview with the East Oregonian that he was glad the union was “absolutely in favor” of body cameras as a way to keep both law enforcement and citizens accountable during interactions. When citizens make complaints, it is helpful to be able to review body camera footage to see if an officer fell short, and provide correction as needed.

“When we don’t put our best foot forward we need to take appropriate action,” he said.

Umatilla County Sheriff Terry Rowan said there’s not a set date for when the body cameras will be deployed by the department this year, and it may take two waves of implementation before every deputy is outfitted with one. However, he said the goal is to deploy all of them by the end of the calendar year.

Rowan said his department’s wait on implementing them compared to other area agencies came from concerns about costs and a first priority on expanding the department’s number of patrol deputies in the county.

“It’s always something we knew we’d have to be creative with in order to bring them to our agency,” he said.

News editor Jade McDowell contributed to this report.

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