Amid questions, Monroe County deputies get body cameras

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Monroe County is arming its sheriff's deputies with body cameras. 

The cameras are among the country's most controversial and talked about crime-fighting tools. They're intended to capture the truth about both suspects and lawmen, but come with high expectations and a high price. 

Everywhere he goes, Sheriff Brad Swain says people ask if and when each deputy will wear a body camera. He hasn't had an answer - or money to buy them - until now.

In just a couple of weeks, Landon Reynolds and every other deputy assigned to patrol duty will have them recording just about everything they do.

"I think they're great," Reynolds said as he patrolled in the Bloomington area. "Everything is on camera so you can't really refute anything that did or did not happen." 

Swain bought about $40,000 worth of cameras and computer equipment with money the department saved when gas prices dropped.

"The public would like deputies to have body cameras," he said.

Each of the small cameras, no bigger than a pack of cigarettes, comes with big expectations.

"It documents the truth," Swain said with confidence.

The cameras capture video and audio. The plan is to keep the recordings for 30 days, unless there is a complaint or they are needed for a court case. 
 
The sheriff believes body cameras will build confidence in the community, reduce the number of complaints and gather irrefutable evidence for criminal trials.

"It documents what happened better than the words of a witness," he explained. 

Body cameras and police car dashboard cameras are also scrutinizing police like never before. In Chicago, a police officer was charged with murdering a suspect after a judge ordered the video be made public. Another police video exonerated a different Chicago officer who shot and killed a fleeing armed suspect. 

"If there is misconduct," Swain said, "we are able to make appropriate response at law enforcement administrators."
 
More than the possible misconduct of officers, Swain is concerned with being overwhelmed by public requests for copies of the videos and Indiana lawmakers who are writing guidelines on who should be entitled to see the recordings and how long they must be stored.

Swain stood in front of boxes filled with the yet-to-be-used cameras.

"If these guidelines seem to appease special interest groups and become overburdensome," he said, "it may come to the point that I will put these right back in the boxes."

Use of the cameras will, for the most part, be mandatory. But the sheriff says there may be situations when officers decide it's better to turn them off. That is among the policies and ground rules to be finalized before deputies begin using the cameras later this month.