By JONAH LOSSIAH
One Feather Staff
Tribal Council hosted a meeting off-air on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 30 with Getac, a company that specializes in camera systems for police departments.
The two men offering the presentation to Council were Getac video sales director Scott Worley and GovDirect account manager Brian Robbins. They have had consistent communication with the Cherokee Indian Police Department (CIPD) to outfit the entire department with cameras. This would include body cameras for 90 officers, each vehicle being equipped with dash and backseat cameras, and multiple cameras for the CIPD building. This purchase would also include cloud storage and online services for using the data. The estimated price with all the assets sits at $1.3 million.
Robbins made it clear the video and data collected through these cameras would be owned by the client, which is not true for every company.
“We got a long way to go right now,” said Gene Owle, interim Cherokee Chief of Police. “The main thing is the policy on how it’s going to be used out there in the field. So, that’s what we’re going to work on first.”
‘Policy’ was a term that was used quite often during the discussions on Tuesday. Each department that deploys this system can assign different protocols for usage.
Worley and Robbins demonstrated the body cams to Council. The camera they showed could be turned on and off manually. During the presentation, they stated that there are several automatic features for recording, however. Some departments have it connected so that the cameras turn on when an officer turns on their lights and siren. There are also options for live-streaming an officer’s footage directly to prosecutors when a connection is available.
The CIPD tested with one of the Getac systems for several weeks before the presentation. They collected videos shown to Council. There was also data tracking to observe the best service areas on the Boundary.
“When an officer is wearing a body-worn camera, he acts differently. When a citizen sees that the officer has a body-worn camera, they act differently. It does create a lot less tension when everybody knows they’re on camera,” said Worley.
He also said the systems in place are helpful when it comes to increasing transparency in a police department. “In Jackson, Mississippi, they’ll show a video to anybody. Anybody that walks in off the street, we’ll show you the video. That has calmed down the racial tension in the city of Jackson. Atlanta PD, five years ago, they bought body-worn cameras for the first time. They were settling out of court for $50 million a year. Now, they pay out four million dollars a year in complaints. So, it will greatly reduce the liabilities for the Police Department,” said Worley.
Whether CIPD would allow for this level of transparency was not discussed.
The presentation also touched on the benefits for prosecutors. They remarked on just how valuable having video evidence could be, increasing prosecutions and making many cases much clearer. EBCI Tribal Prosecutors Cody White and Shelli Buckner both voiced their support for the CIPD getting body cams at a Police Commission meeting in January. Tribal Prosecutors were not present at this presentation, however.
Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke voiced her concern towards the cloud concept, given that there are many pockets of dead zones in and around the Qualla Boundary. Robbins reassured Council that while streaming and uploading functions can be used in the field, the cameras can collect video and information at all times. If there were a situation where a connection was unavailable, it would simply hold the data until the officer returned to the Police Station, where it could upload automatically.
Tribal Council Vice Chair David Wolfe presented another question, asking about the previous camera system implemented at the CIPD. He wondered what the difference between the systems was and why the initial one was no longer in use.
This concern was addressed by Alica Wildcatt, office administrator for the CIPD.
“During the Lambert administration, cell phone services were reviewed, and the MDTs operated on a MiFi type system, and we were paying about 50 dollars a month for each of the patrol cars that they were on. And those were all deemed not necessary by the administration,” said Wildcatt.
The $1.3 million figure is the total cost for the systems, services, warranties, and training. That includes a five-year warranty that covers everything except for losing a device. It would outfit multiple interview rooms, cars, and over 100 body cameras. This would make it possible to have every officer involved with the CIPD equipped with a body cam. That includes NRE, ALE, and the jail.
The CIPD has been working on implementing a solution like this for months. The Tribal Council favored adding a solution like the one Getac offered. Still, they agreed that more information needed to be gathered and policies must be drawn up before making any significant decisions.