The Aitkin County Sheriff’s Department is ready to start using body cameras after a public hearing revealed little to no commentary had been made during the public comment period.
Sheriff Dan Guida announced last month that he was accepting public comments on the use of body cams in addition to the vehicle cameras currently in use. However, at April 14 Aitkin County Board meeting, held online, Guida revealed they had received no public comment, and only a small number of comments on Facebook.
“I see that as a huge plus for us in Aitkin County,” said Guida of the body cameras, which he said will be used to collect further evidence, as well as allowing for enhanced transparency and cooperation.
The policy for the use of the body cameras is posted on the Aitkin County Board page, and a test camera has been in use for about three weeks. The county board heard the presentation April 14, but did not need to formally approve the use of the body cameras, according to Chairman Bill Pratt.
A test camera has been in use for about three weeks, and the rest will now go online. The cameras are actually Samsung cellphones, attached to deputy’s vests and used not only as body cameras but as phones and cameras to take photos.
Guida addressed the privacy concern, saying that residents can ask to have the cameras turned off so long as the deputy is not taking part in a criminal investigation. Body cameras are already in use by Aitkin city police, and Guida said the use of the body cams will help with evidence and for use in complaints made against deputies.
A company called Visual Labs is providing the licensed software and phone application for the department to use. The contract was set to be signed last week. The company also provides service for Washington and Mille Lacs counties.
The total annual cost is $22,077, but Guida said the county is currently paying $6,480 a year for the flip phones deputies have, but do not use because of issues with the phones.
The only real question at the county board meeting was from Commissioner Anne Marcotte, who asked how residents can know to ask to have the camera turned off if they aren’t sure it is on. Guida said that the law doesn’t require officers to tell the public the camera is on, but “it will be very obvious they are being recorded.
“We don’t want to sneak around,” he explained.
Sheriff’s department acquires masks, hand sanitizer
In other news with the Aitkin County Sheriff, Guida recently said that the county received a shipment of hand sanitizer and KN-95 masks (the Chinese equivalent of the N-95 masks).
The 1,000 masks and 30 gallons of sanitizer were purchased from private vendors. The masks do need to be fit to each individual, and Riverwood Healthcare Center is providing the training, Guida said, adding his thanks to Riverwood and the Aitkin County Health and Human Services Department.
When training is done, the masks will be issued to all Aitkin County Fire Departments, Police Departments, First Responder groups, and organizations that serve residential at-risk populations in Aitkin County.
If facilities or organizations are in need of these supplies, contact Patrice Erickson, Aitkin County deputy emergency manager at 218-927-7437. Requests will be reviewed and deliveries arranged as supplies are available.