Huntington Co. issues body cams post-Ferguson

Huntington County Deputy Sheriff Chris Long displays one of the body cameras issued to his entire department.

HUNTINGTON, Ind. (WANE) – If officer Darren Wilson had been wearing a body camera when he shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, there would likely be far less outrage and controversy across the country.

As national attention focuses on the new police tactic, the Huntington County Sheriff’s Department issued body cameras to its entire department — weeks after the incident in Ferguson.

In a way, the timing in Huntington County is coincidence. Leaders with the department applied for a local grant to get the body cameras in July. They got them at the beginning of August (about the same time as the Ferguson incident) and wasted no time issuing them.

But in another sense Sheriff Terry Stoffel said it’s an effort to prevent another Ferguson, in Huntington County.

“We decided that here in Huntington, we wanted to do something to make sure we weren’t caught in that situation or if something did erupt, we had proof what did happen or what didn’t happen,” Stoffel said. “The way our society’s moving, it’s a good insurance marker for them and us.”

But leaders say the technology isn’t fool proof.  The small department only had enough money to get some of the least expensive body cameras, said to cost about $70 for each of its 15 deputies and a couple reserves.

To start recording, officers have to push a small button on the body cameras twice.  It’s something that could prove difficult in a fast-paced, high-stress scenario.

“One of the problems is if you only hit it once in a high stress situation you think your camera might be on and it may not be recording,” said Chris Long, deputy sheriff in Huntington County. “One of the recommendations is you activate it prior to something happening. When you get out of the car to go into a situation, do it before because in a high stress situation, you’re not going to know if you have that thing on or not.”

Despite the clunky procedure, Long said knowing every incident is recorded brings an extra burden to treat others with respect.

“Having that there, it reminds us to stay professional,” Long said. “It’s accountability and it’s also a safety factor that we know that if something happens to us there will be video of that to help bring justice there also.”

Long said the body cameras in Huntington County have already played in role in proving OWI and theft cases.

The Fort Wayne Police Department has started issuing body cameras to select special units. The Allen County Sheriff’s Department is hoping to do so as soon as possible.

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