Sherriff’s office pauses use of body cams due to recurring malfunctions


File Photo by Sam Wall
Montgomery County Sheriff Hank Partin unveils the new Automatic Injury Detection (AID) panel in March. The panels have since been sent back to manufacturers to be modified. The department’s body cameras are currently not in use either.

The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office told the board of supervisors that it has temporarily terminated the use of body cameras by its deputies until recurring software issues can be resolved.

Sheriff Hank Partin and Capt. Ed Hertling of the criminal investigation division explained Wednesday some of the issues that caused the department to quit using the devices last month.

Hertling said that serial numbers unique to each camera are used to track the video being uploaded into the system, but the numbers have been getting swapped with one another, making it difficult to find and assign footage to the correct camera. Viewing the uploaded video and charging issues have also been problematic.

Defense contractor L3, who manufactured the units, advised the department to reboot the units, which Hertling said has been ineffective.

“It was getting to a point where we were resetting cameras every single day,” he said. “It was a constant struggle.”

Additionally, the contractor has given the department other models that have failed to alleviate the problems, while also refusing to upgrade the old ones with the newest version.

Hertling said that the department was considering suing L3, but has taken no formal steps.

The sheriff’s office bought 88 units for $32,700 in 2014 (going into use in early 2015), and was given another 32 for free. Hertling couldn’t say for sure how many cameras had malfunctioned, but said that, going forward, the department would use fewer devices in an effort to fix the issues on a smaller scale.

“We don’t need 120 cameras, probably half that actually,” Partin said.

He also made it a point to mention that the matter predates him, having taken office in 2016.

The office has also temporarily halted the use of another piece of technology, the Automatic Injury Detection (AID) system, which connects a panel that is inserted into the deputy’s bulletproof vest to smartphones and police radios of select personnel as well as emergency services operators.

The vests sensors detect injuries from shooting, stabbing or shrapnel from explosions, and in addition to blood type and location, identify any allergies to medicine that a deputy may have.

The sheriff’s office was the law enforcement agency in the country to implement that technology, doing so in March. The department spent $86,000 to implement the new system, but only spent $3,500 on the 110 vests. Seventy-five of which were donated by the manufacturer (Select Engineering, LLC).

“The rest of the $86,000 was for portable radio upgrades and infrastructure. Since we were beta testers at the ground level for the panels, the company gave them to us at an extreme discount,” sheriff’s office spokesperson Brian Wright wrote in an email. “The cost per set of panels now for other agencies our size is around the $350-$375 range.”

Partin has previously said that the department actually saved money since it would have been forced to upgrade radio systems in a few years due to new regulations.

Wright wrote that the panels were issued on a test basis for approximately 30-60 days and then returned to the company with some notes regarding issues that were discovered, as well as suggestions for modification.

“The company has taken those suggestions and are in the process of design modifications and upgrades to the panels,” he wrote. “Once those are completed they will be sending us all of the new/updated panels at no further cost.”

Wright wrote that some of the modifications Select Engineering is working into the revised panels include updated tracking capabilities, compatibility with both Android and Apple phones (previously they were only compatible with Android), durability enhancements and open microphone functionality.

He said that they didn’t have an exact date of when the vests would come in, but they will be reissued once they are received from the company.

Wright also noted that the goal has been to equip every deputy (aside from command staff) with a set of panels, including five deputies who have been hired since the initial fitting process.

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