Grand Traverse Sheriff’s Department Will Purchase Body Cameras
52 Body Cams Coming to the Dept. in May
The Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Department will buy some new tools – outfitting more than 50 officers with body cameras. Grand Traverse County Commissioners approved the purchase this week, and body cameras should arrive at the Sheriff’s Office next month.
Body cameras have been a topic of discussion in Grand Traverse County for a long time. But over the past year, the anti-ra
cism task force, “Northern Michigan E3” has rallied support for the cameras. E3 Council Member and Traverse City Business Owner Tyasha Harrison says “It’s been a long time coming.” She says, “There were some people that didn’t feel the need to have cameras because there hasn’t been any issues so far… We definitely want to have a solution before we have a problem.”
Council Member Holly T. Bird agrees. “The overriding thought was ‘we don’t have any problems with police brutality here so why do we need them?’” She adds, “I want to quote from Marshall Collins, one of our other E3 members, ‘Why do we have to have a death or an issue before we come up with body cameras?’ We shouldn’t have to.”
Harrison says that the “talk of body cameras in the county has happened way before this council even formed. So it’s definitely something I feel that was on the radar of this county that needed to happen.”
The cameras will be able to record interaction with the public. County Commissioners supported the purchase with a unanimous vote. E3 Council Coordinator and Grand Traverse Resident Brett Sinclair says, “This was a 7-0 vote that passed. We’re seeing that we want to work together as a community to build a healthier, stronger community.”
The body cameras come with a five year contract. Commissioner Brad Jewett says, “This is a five year deal right up front. The first year was 80,000 ($85,000) and years 2-3-4-5 is $50,000 a year for it.” That covers the cost of the equipment and digital data storage. The Sheriff’s Department will also apply for a grant to help offset the cost.
Jewett says, “I think it’s a good thing for everybody involved. One thing, to me, it protects our officers in He Said, She Said-type situations. And it also gives them a sense of peace that shows them our officers are doing everything by the book. And holds them to a higher standard than most people think.”
In its memo to the County Commissioners, the Sheriff’s Office highlights the fact that body cameras are becoming standard equipment: now in use by 47% of law enforcement agencies across the country. Jewett says, “It’s obviously 50-50 out there but it is a growing trend. And I think in the climate we live in today you’ll see more law enforcement divisions going with body cameras in the near future.”
And the Sheriff’s Office says national studies show body cameras are most often used to prosecute citizens, not members of the police. Bird, who is also an attorney and tribal judge, says “I think that getting body cameras is a first step in accountability, for law enforcement but also for the community. Research shows that it actually benefits law enforcement more than it does the community. (It) provides a video record of evidence… and actually cuts down on court costs.” She adds, “Having presided over trials as well as being a defense attorney at times, I know the value that video evidence brings.”
Northern Michigan E3 has been concerned about racial profiling and police brutality issues nationwide. Bird says, “Racial profiling does happen here. Whether it’s explicit or implicit bias involved, it’s something that members of our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and Persons of Color) community experience regularly. And it’s often not reported. It’s hard to report to an agency that self-regulates.”
Harrison adds, “It’s historically known that, especially people of color, we have a very hard time trusting our law enforcement. And trusting that if we report any type of misconduct to another law enforcement official, it will be taken seriously. And that it will be corrected. The use of body camera footage will help both sides.”
“Body cameras help keep everyone accountable, not just law enforcement but our community members as well,” Harrison says. “It’s a good step in the right direction but we still have a long way to go.”
The Sheriff’s Department says it’s the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office who will handle Freedom of Information requests for body cam videos, or footage used in criminal trials. But they say the Prosecutor’s office is also expected to request the ability to hire an additional full time staff person to handle the workload.
Sinclair says E3’s other priorities include:
-Establishing Anti-profiling policies in law enforcement
-Working to include others, such as social workers, on non-violent calls
-Reducing the number of ICE holds in the region