Sheriff reflects on first year using body cameras

HUNTINGTON COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) – Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of the police-action shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. Since then, body cameras have become standard for many departments across the country, including Huntington County.

The Huntington County Sheriff’s Department purchased body cameras for all of its officers shortly after the events in Ferguson unfolded. Sheriff Terry Stoffel calls the last year a learning experience and an adjustment, but one neither he nor his department would trade.

“It’s not just all about it what he said or what we said or our actions. A lot of times it’s about gathering information when we go up to a scene as something is unfolding. That’s the most pure source of information that we get. Nothing is rehearsed,” Stoffel said. “I’d say there are some times they use them two or three times a day. There are some times we may go a whole shift and maybe record one traffic stop, and that’s it. So, it just depends on the day.”

Sheriff Terry Stoffel said the cameras are used for everything from traffic stops to OWIs to domestic cases. He hasn’t had to use the footage to prove an officer’s actions yet, but is ready if he ever needed to.

“We just live by that word down here, transparency. We really do, and I think it makes us just a better police department. As an administrator, that’s a huge word for us. We want everybody to know what’s going on. Do people make mistakes, absolutely. We’re just trying to keep everybody on an even playing field,” Stoffel said. “I don’t want any of the problems that some of the other departments have had. I want to do everything I can to stay on the other side of that.”

Stoffel said the biggest challenges with the body cameras are making sure they’re turned on correctly and putting them on the right spot on the officer’s bodies.

“Placement and making sure that you’re not pointing up at the sky or down at your feet and trying to keep everything pointed central,” Stoffel said. “If it turns into a scuffle, the camera can get knocked or dislodged, and it can be pointing up at the trees instead of what it needs to be shooting, but the audio still works just fine.”

A grant plus some funding from the department paid for the cameras. It’s an investment Stoffel calls priceless.

“I think it’s something that’s affordable for all departments. I think sometimes maybe you can’t afford not to have this tool in your hand,” Stoffel said.

Stoffel also plans to get body cameras for all 22 of his reserve officers by the end of the year.

“The reserve officers go out and do the same thing that we do as far as traffic stops and taking the same kinds of calls that we would. I would like to make sure that we have body cameras for each one of our reserve officers, as well,” Stoffel said. “It’s a good tool for us. We’ve got nothing to hide. We’ll wear these and keep on doing what we do. I’m glad we took that leap forward and it’s helped us a lot.”

The Fort Wayne Police Department and the Allen County Sheriff’s Department have both have applied for several grants to get body cameras for their officers and are waiting to hear back.

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