The Sampson County Sheriff’s Office is seeking to install another watchful eye over the general public and possible perpetrators with the help of a grant that would equip patrol vehicles with in-car cameras.
The Sheriff’s Office is applying for a grant through the Governor’s Highway Safety Program to obtain in-car video cameras. A 50/50 grant, the total project tallies $72,000, of which $36,000 is a local match. Sheriff Jimmy Thornton this week requested that the Board of Commissioners allow him to proceed with the grant using $36,000 in seized asset funding to account for the local match.
Following a brief discussion, the board unanimously adopted a resolution authorizing the Sheriff’s Office to apply for the grant funds. Thornton said the department would be fortunate to be successful in obtaining the grant, but touted the benefits.
“The in-car video cameras will be essential in DWI prosecution cases and other types of criminal prosecution,” the sheriff stated. “The cameras will be placed in the vehicles of deputies assigned to the Criminal Interdiction Team, the town of Garland and the town of Roseboro, which account for the majority of traffic stops in the Sheriff’s Office. (Seized asset funds) will be used for whatever portion is not paid for by the Governor’s Highway Safety Program.”
Thornton said a resolution was needed from the Board of Commissioners, which obliged.
“I think this is a good idea,” said Commissioner Albert Kirby. “I wish we had them on every single car. Is there any way to look at getting them on all the vehicles? I know it costs.”
Seized asset funds can only be used for items beneficial to the Sheriff’s Office and cannot be used to supplant items in the sheriff’s budget, such as vehicles, salaries and other normally-purchased equipment.
In recent months, the Sheriff’s Office has been approved to purchase equipment with seized assets, a circumstance that not only affords the opportunity for the department to fill equipment needs as a result of its hard work in making drug and cash seizures, but it allows for improved operations and saved county dollars in future budgets.
In September, the Sheriff’s Office was approved to expend a portion of a $279,000 award it received for its role in a 2011 multi-agency drug operation. The board subsequently approved for the department to spend $188,670 of those proceeds, a large portion of which would pay for two vehicles with equipment, for the Special Investigations Division and the Criminal Interdiction Team, a $70,000 expense cut from the 2013-14 budget.
Additionally, the Sheriff’s Office was approved to buy radar units, replacement equipment for a burned vehicle, a crime scene vehicle (surplus ambulance retrofitted) and equipment, a portable Drug ID unit, emergency lighting for three SUVs, propane conversions for seven more vehicles and lapel microphones for portable radios.
In-car cameras would be another step toward improving operations efficiencies, Thornton noted. Commissioners agreed,
Kirby attested to the effectiveness of the cameras in capturing evidence firsthand. An attorney, Kirby said he recently had a case in which he was defending a client that wished to see the video tape from a patrol car in making a case for his innocence. “We finally saw it,” said Kirby, with a laugh. “Bad news for him.”
Thornton said having cameras on every one of the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office’s patrol cars would be ideal, but that would be a costly endeavor. Getting the GHSP grant would be a good step, but it was not even a sure thing.
“We’ll be lucky if we get what we ask for,” said Thornton. “This is really a shot in the dark, the possibility of being able to get these on some. Every patrol car needs a patrol camera.”
“I believe so,” Kirby concurred.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.