PIERRE, S.D. — Members of the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission reviewed a plan Friday for providing body cameras to more than 100 wildlife and parks law-enforcement officers for the agency across South Dakota.
The final contract hasn’t been drawn but the cost could be in the range of $300,000 to $350,000 over five years for three generations of equipment and data management through Taser International, according to GF&P officials.
They said the cameras last 2.5 to three years under normal conditions. They plan to purchase Taser Axon Flex equipment, which can be head-mounted so they show the officer’s point of view. They also considered two companies’ body-mounted cameras.
Conservation officers Austin Norton at Webster and Dan Altman at Yankton served for several months as field testers.
The department has looked since 2013 at the possibility of adding body cameras to the equipment for its officers. The department currently doesn’t use cameras in its vehicles either.
Several other law-enforcements departments in South Dakota are using the point-of-view cameras. “We saw a big difference in the quality of video our guys were recording,” said Brandon Gust of Madison, the department’s boating law administrator.
The Taser is continually recording but doesn’t store until the user hits the activation button, he said. There is a 30-second backup of video but the audio doesn’t start until it’s activated. Taser provides an EvidenceSync platform for storage. The officers upload the recordings but can’t edit them.
The Aberdeen police department has used them for several years, Gust said.
The cost for the equipment and data storage didn’t appear to deter commission members.
“I think it’s a heckuva safety deal for the officers and everything. I think it’s a wonderful thing. I think people will be well aware they’re on camera,” said commissioner Jim Spies of Watertown.
Over the course of five years, each officer would get three different cameras over that span, Andy Alban said. He is the department’s law enforcement program administrator.
What happens under the next contract was somewhat of a concern for commissioner Paul Dennert of Columbia. “So we don’t know at this time whether it will cheaper to operate or a higher price?” Dennert asked.
Gust confirmed that a new contract would be needed after five years. Gust said the contract locks in data-management prices.
Alban said “a conservative estimate” would be “around $3,000” per officer for that period.
The recording retention period would be two to three months for routine matters and more than 1,000 days for “something potentially litigious where there’s going to be court proceedings,” according to Alban.
He said the recordings wouldn’t be readily available to the general public because they are protected as confidential investigation information under South Dakota’ public-records laws.
Tony Leif, director for the state Wildlife Division, said the cameras could be important in disputed situations. “It’s really important to see the whole story, tell the whole story, when these things happen,” Leif said.
None of the commissioners expressed any opposition to the project.
“If we can increase our safety even a little bit, we need to do it,” commissioner Scott Phillips of rural New Underwood said.