Police & Fire

Dash cams delayed after Penobscot sheriff ‘grossly underestimated’ work involved

By Marie Weidmayer, Bangor Daily News Staff

Dashboard cameras are installed in almost all Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office cruisers, but it may be months until they are turned on.

The sheriff’s office bought dashboard and body-worn cameras for 36 patrol officers in early 2024. The cost of the equipment and installation is expected to total $500,000, Sheriff Troy Morton said during a Penobscot County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, May 7.

However, the sheriff’s office may need to spend more money before it can turn the cameras on after realizing it “grossly underestimated” the amount of time and work to process the videos the cameras produce. 

Now, the cameras may not be turned on until January.

Police departments across the nation have started using cameras amid growing scrutiny of police in recent years, as the footage can be used as evidence in court and during internal police investigations. But departments are not always prepared for the amount of footage the cameras produce. 

The sheriff’s office said it will need a dedicated person to respond to requests for footage from lawyers and Freedom of Access Act requests.

“The one thing that we absolutely underestimated is the amount of work that it’s going to take to manage the system,” Morton said.

The Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office has been working to implement the cameras since at least November 2022, when it said deputies would start using body and dashboard cameras by the end of 2023.

The sheriff’s office previously spoke with other police departments about their experiences with managing the footage, but those agencies had fewer officers or did not have both body and dashboard cameras, Morton said. 

When the Bangor Police Department first launched its cameras in 2021 it did not have a person dedicated to managing the footage, Sgt. Jason McAmbley said. Now the evidence room property manager handles the videos. 

A few Penobscot County dashboard cameras were turned on for testing during the installation process but none have been turned on in the field, Morton told the Bangor Daily News on May 8. The body cameras have not been installed.

Twenty-six of the 36 cameras are installed in cruisers, with the rest expected to be installed this week, Lt. Keith Hotaling said at the May 7 meeting.

“I think it’s an incredibly important tool,” Morton said at the meeting. “We’ve spent half a million dollars to put it in place. It’s going to take something to get it going.”

The sheriff’s office has a five-year contract with Motorola. Part of that includes artificial intelligence that will help redact and prepare files for distribution, such as blocking juveniles so minors cannot be seen in released footage.

The sheriff’s office does not have the staff needed to manage the system and a new hire is not in the budget for 2024. The county’s budget follows the calendar year.

Commissioner Andre Cushing said the board will discuss finding the budget for the position this summer, but it could not commit to the funding this year because of budget constraints. 

“My position is we made the decision that we wanted to go forward, this was important,” Cushing said. “I think we need to look at what the impact is, staffing.”

The commission is open to preparing for next year so the cameras are ready to go in January, Cushing said.

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