Clay County Deputy Mike White is one of 12 officers testing bodycams in the department. The current unit being tested is an AXON Body 4. | Clay County Sheriff's OfficeClay County Deputy Mike White is one of 12 officers testing bodycams in the department. The current unit being tested is an AXON Body 4. | Clay County Sheriff's Office
Clay County Deputy Mike White is one of 12 officers testing bodycams in the department. The current unit being tested is an AXON Body 4. | Clay County Sheriff's Office

Police test bodycams in Clay County

Published on June 4, 2024 at 4:51 pm

Almost six years after the first police bodycams arrived in Northeast Florida, Clay County is joining the departments that use them.

The Clay County Sheriff’s Office has launched a 1½-year study to see which supplier it will use.

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Twelve deputies have been trained to test bodycams — to see how well they work, how to download and store video, and other issues — before all 350 deputies adopt the cameras, Sheriff Michelle Cook said.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office was the first to use bodycams in Northeast Florida. Nassau and St. Johns County deputies use them too. Asked why it took so long in Clay County, Cook said she had to deal with some “other very significant” issues first when she assumed office in 2020.

First, her department had to update its “very antiquated” department technology, like putting its former paper timesheets online for 700 badged and civilian employees. She said she also wanted to set up a competitive pay package to recruit and retain deputies before setting up the computer infrastructure to download and store every deputy’s bodycam video.

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“I wanted to do it right and not necessarily fast,” Cook said. “So early on, I challenged the staff with reaching out to area agencies. We also worked with an area college to do research on what other organizations are doing; how do they have their systems set up; how did they fund it and what grants are available? All of those things combined really got us where we are at today.”

Reaction was mostly positive when Cook announced the testing program on the department’s Facebook page. Some people were surprised; others offered suggestions.

One woman said thank you but asked that the Sheriff’s Office ” just keep them rolling as long as the deputy is on duty and not allow the (law enforcement officer) wearing it to turn it on/off as they please.”

A man said use of bodycams “should be a no-brainer for every law enforcement agency in the country.” Another woman asked, “Wait, don’t all police departments require these now? I thought Clay County already had been using these for years.”

One of the AXON bodycams under review now by the Clay County Sheriff’s Office. | Clay County Sheriff’s Office

According to a 2022 report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 47 of Florida’s 67 sheriff’s offices use bodycams, and the rest do not, according to News4Jax, a Jacksonville Today news partner.

Cook said she and staff began discussing bodycams four years ago, then began planning for the testing and implementation about two years later.

“We are taking baby steps to make sure we do it right,” she said. “The last thing I want is to put 100 cameras out there, then we can’t keep up with redactions, public record requests or the storage needs. My goal is for a year and half from now, everybody has them. We will try a couple of different companies to make sure it’s a good match.”

The estimated costs to implement the program for the first year are $1.4 million, then just over $1.3 million for each of the next four years, the Sheriff’s Office said. Those estimated costs are based on current pricing including cameras, hardware, software, digital storage ad services, as well as current staffing levels. The Sheriff’s Office said it will apply for a grant to pay for the bodycams or add the cost to its annual budget if no grant is available, .

Along with patrol deputies, K9 officers and traffic units will be part of the test team “because they are so hard on their equipment,” Cook said. 


author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.
author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

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