Body cams to bring ‘modern approach’ to El Dorado Sheriff’s Office

Chris Daley
Mountain Democrat

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — El Dorado County supervisors at Tuesday’s board meeting authorized a move to bring body-worn cameras to the Sheriff’s Office.

As directed, Chief Administrative Officer Don Ashton said he will include a partial element of the item in his development of the preliminary budget between now and June. It will be partial because the fiscal year will already be nearly half over by the time a final or recommended budget is accepted in mid-to-late September.

Sheriff John D’Agostini summarized data from a letter and presentation he had sent to the board for the meeting.

“It’s become very clear to me that it is time for us to adopt this kind of program,” he began. “Technology has caught up and the costs and extra duty for staff are warranted.”

He continued explaining that “it’s expected in this day and age and the bottom line for the board now is the cost.”

Studies were conducted on two fairly comparable systems, he said and recommended the county adopt the Watchguard system, noting that “its technology seems more affordable and is the easiest to use.”

Acknowledging budget issues, D’A’gostini further explained, “It’s possible that downstream, the district attorney and public defender would stream video evidence as well.”

County District Attorney Vern Pierson called in to the meeting and stated, “I definitely think it’s time for it.” He said the public defender would probably agree.

“Now is the time. It’s the industry standard, the modern approach to law enforcement. I understand the budget concerns,” D’Agostini concluded. But, “it will have to be fully funded by the Board of Supervisors.”

Supervisor Sue Novasel from South Lake Tahoe and District 3’s Wendy Thomas weighed in praising the Sheriff’s efforts “for following technology and for gratitude for his thoroughness.” Dsitrict 2 Supervisor George Turnboo pointed out that body cameras are “not only good for the citizens but also for the safety of our deputies.”

Board Chairman John Hidahl noted a “broader need for staffing over the next few years” and suggested considering leasing the devices initially rather than going all-in and buying them.

Hidahl further described research into how other counties have already or are currently developing body-worn camera systems. He noted 75% of state jurisdictions have or are working on acquiring cameras. Likewise, 67% of the state’s sheriff’s offices are at some stage of development.

D’Agostini wrapped up the presentation telling the board, “we are very blessed to have our community’s support. It’s time to adopt the technology and the transparency to protect our citizens and it will exonerate our deputies” if needed.

Eight community members called in with a few caveats regarding privacy and potential “over reliance” on the technology but otherwise with overwhelming support for the program.

Supervisors approved the item unanimously.

Cost details are available in item 16 of the board’s May 11, 2021 agenda.

The Watchguard v300 system is start-up priced at $1,319,597. Its ongoing/yearly budget is estimated at $750,000.

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