The Vermillion Police Department expects to have all purchases, training and policies in place for on-duty officers to use body cameras this summer.
VPD Chief Matthew Betzen said, assuming no backlog exists because of nationwide interest in body cameras, the more than $27,000 in-state funds VPD received in late January will be used to purchase the technology soon.
“Me and the sheriff are going over our options and dealing with vendors to figure out which exact camera system we are going with and arrange a purchase,” Betzen said. “There is not a delay. We’re just in no super hurry.”
Betzen said that creating a policy for on-duty officers using the cameras will take some time.
Vermillion is following the lead of other South Dakota towns. VPD has consulted Aberdeen’s police, who were among the first in the nation to have body cameras.
“We have found them valuable in resolving conflicts, helping prosecute cases, resolve complaints on officers, many different uses for training purposes,” Jay Tobin, captain for the Aberdeen Police Department, said.
Betzen said the purchases were not made to specifically target violations in Vermillion.
“Whatever call we get, the officer could potentially be recording,” Betzen said. “Collecting visual evidence just helps our cases along as far as being able to deal with discovery issues, such as whether we actually saw something or not, allegations that officers are being dishonest.”
First-year University of South Dakota student Brandon Swenson said he is unsure how effective they would be in Vermillion.
“It’s a small enough town with so little crime,” Swenson said. “I don’t think that warrants every cop needing a camera.”
Right now, the most likely camera vendor for VPD is TASER International, Betzen said. He added the reliability of technology concerns him.
“Technology fails,” Betzen said. “You see it all the time. Our goal is to have as much as we can covered, but technology could fail.”
In the five years Aberdeen has used the cameras, Tobin said there have been no problems with the cameras. Any technology deficiencies were replaced by TASER, and officers have benefitted from their use.
“Every time (TASER) has made a change, they have upgraded our system at no cost,” he said.