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Olmsted County Sheriff's Office begins patrols, duty with new cameras

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Olmsted County Sheriff's Deputy Heather Johns displays the office's new body-worn cameras. The new cameras use a smartphone device that is worn inside the uniform with an eyelet punched into the shirt to allow for the lens placement. A Bluetooth connected device attached to Johns' belt allows her to manually activate the camera. (Emily Cutts / ecutts@postbulletin.com)
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The Olmsted County Sheriff's Office began using its new in-squad and body-worn cameras, months after the $1.18 million purchase was approved by the county Board of Commissioners.

The new body-worn cameras feature a number of parts that work together. A smartphone device is held in a holster inside of a deputy's uniform shirt, which have been modified with an eyelet hole for the camera lens. Uniform coats have also been modified to accommodate the new camera setup.

A Bluetooth connected controller can be attached to a belt or worn around the wrist to let deputies activate the camera. The placement of the cameras, inside a deputy's shirt but over a tactical vest, also allows for better sound as the camera's microphone is protected more from the wind.

On Sept. 17, the Olmsted County Board of Commissioners awarded the approximately $1.18 million contact to Utility Associates, Inc. for the camera equipment, including mobile access routers and the software to manage and store the data. The county will pay for the new equipment over five years with an initial payment of $600,000 followed by four subsequent payments of $144,421.

The purchase puts cameras in nearly 60 squad cars and on about 160 members of the Sheriff's Office, including plainclothes members and employees in the Adult Detention Center.

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"This is an all-encompassing system," Capt. Scott Behrns said. "All of our digital media is stored with one vendor, one location. It increases the security of it. It enhances our ability to release it to the prosecutors and it just categorizes the digital evidence better."

The  Olmsted County Sheriff's Office's Body Worn Camera Policy  can be found on the office's website. Deputies are required to have their cameras on at all times while on duty, but there are exceptions when a deputy does not have to record an interaction, or when he or she may block the camera's lens or mute the microphone.

The new cameras have a number of auto-triggers that start recording without a deputy pressing a button to have it do so. When a deputy makes a traffic stop and activates his or her squad's lights, the in-squad camera will start recording and include a period of time before the camera was activated.

A deputy's body-worn camera is triggered to start recording if an officer is prone for 20 seconds, according to Behrns. It will also send a GPS alert to everyone in the system that the deputy is down. The body-worn camera can sense a physical struggle and begin recording. In a few months, it will have the ability to auto-record when a foot chase is sensed or when a gunshot is detected within 60 to 90 feet, according to Behrns. A sensor will also be attached to a deputy's firearm or TASER holster and will trigger the camera if either is removed.

The cameras do not have facial recognition technology.

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Olmsted County Sheriff's Deputy Heather Johns displays the office's new body-worn cameras. The new cameras use a smartphone device that is worn inside the uniform with an eyelet punched into the shirt to allow for the lens placement. (Emily Cutts / ecutts@postbulletin.com)

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