body cam

Morton County Sheriff's Deputy Chris Tracy shows the body camera tested by some deputies in the fall of 2018. The camera is worn on the shoulder of the uniform and can be detached on a cord.

The Morton County Sheriff’s Office has budgeted for body cameras in its 2020 request to the county commission, following testing of the devices last fall.

Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier requested 12 Motorola Si500 body cameras and video storage, costing about $15,000, in his $4.5 million budget blueprint. The Morton County Commission on Tuesday approved the preliminary 2020 budget for all departments.

The $25 million total budget now moves to the next stage, in which the commission can trim but not increase spending. The commission asked the sheriff to cut his budget by about $200,000, which he said eliminates a requested full-time position and some equipment items.

"Right now we're still working the cameras into the budget," Kirchmeier said.

The costs break down to about $600 per camera plus about $650 per camera, per year for video storage. The camera is worn on the shoulder of the uniform and can be detached on a cord.

Kirchmeier said they would be “another nice tool to have,” and one that would have been handy for officers policing the often chaotic protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016 and 2017 in southern Morton County.

He would implement the cameras first for investigations, civil process and inmate transports.

“During evictions, that sort of thing, we’ve had some of our deputies kicked and jumped on and bitten,” Kirchmeier said. “This is something that will help those out for court, also.”

The Motorola brand could be incorporated with the agency’s radios, he added. Field deputies, for now, use in-car cameras. The Morton County Sheriff’s Office has 36 sworn officers.

If ultimately approved, Morton County would be the only Bismarck-Mandan-area law enforcement agency to use body cameras.

Neither Bismarck police, Mandan police nor the Burleigh County Sheriff’s Department use body cameras. Lincoln police intend to pursue body cameras “preferably as soon as possible,” Police Chief Greg Leveling said.

Burleigh County Sheriff Kelly Leben said video storage costs have so far kept his agency from using body cameras. He also expressed the importance of capturing good-quality video and adopting a camera use policy if he pursued the devices.

“There’s some good things to them but there’s also some drawbacks to them,” Leben said. In-car cameras are so far sufficient, he added.

Morton County Commission Chairman Bruce Strinden said body cameras are a nice gadget in showing the whole context of an encounter or confrontation involving an officer, as long as they’re recording.

“I think, as far as my standpoint, is having another tool for the officer to get out there and have that when they’re doing their duty is a good thing to have,” Kirchmeier said.

The Morton County Commission next meets Aug. 8.

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Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.