SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. — Questions have resurfaced about the lack of body cameras within the Spokane County Sheriff's Office (SCSO) amid conversations about police reform and accountability.
A recent post from a Reddit user asking why the sheriff's office doesn't use body cameras garnered dozens of comments.
In 2015, the Spokane Police Department became the first large department in Washington state to institute body cameras after Spokane City Council approved the purchase in 2013. Their usage is now common among larger cities across the country.
According to research published by Pew Charitable Trusts in January 2020, only two states require all law enforcement agencies to use cameras: Nevada and South Carolina.
SCSO Cpl. Mark Gregory says Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich supports the use of body cameras, but the office doesn't have the budget to purchase them. The sheriff's office has to request funding for things like body cameras from the Spokane County Commissioners, who oversee the budget, he added.
During the economic downturn of 2008, the sheriff's office lost about 30 positions, Gregory said. Though the department has recovered some of those jobs, he says it is still not up to par as far as personnel.
The sheriff's office has requested body cameras on and off since at least 2011, Gregory said. But the decision came down to purchasing the equipment or hiring deputies.
In 2017, the sheriff's office again revisited the idea of purchasing of body cameras. Gregory said the cost of the equipment was projected to equal that of employing nine to 10 deputies.
“It’s not for a lack of wanting them," Gregory said of body cameras. "It comes down to simply being able to have deputies to respond to calls or whether or not that money would have went to cameras.”
A KREM 2 investigation in 2019 found that the Spokane Police Department spends more than $300,000 a year to use and store their officers’ body-worn camera footage with a company named Axon. The footage is then stored for future use in any lawsuits or criminal cases brought forward that involves an interaction with police.
While body cameras don't necessarily prevent use-of-force issues, Knezovich has said in the past that they can show what happened during an incident and assist in Internal Affairs investigations. In other words, they are helpful to both deputies and citizens, Gregory said.
“The fact is that he [the sheriff] is for transparency and body cameras are just one more tool that would help in that situation," Gregory added.