EAU CLAIRE — Adding body-worn cameras to the gear worn by deputies had been on Eau Claire County Sheriff Ron Cramer’s mind, but funds to buy them were just out of his reach.
“We were not able to find money in our budget to support body cameras,” he said.
However, that changed with a donation from a local nonprofit organization, which will equip the sheriff’s deputies and jail staff, as well as officers in Eau Claire Police Department with body cameras in January.
PESI, which specializes in continuing education seminars, conferences and materials, donated $949,622 to local law enforcement to buy a new video system and pay annual costs for it through 2025.
“We are honored to make this investment in our community,” Mike Olson, PESI’s deputy director, said at a Friday news conference where he turned over a large check to Cramer and Police Chief Matt Rokus.
Not only is the donation paying for body cameras and cloud-based storage for video files, but also for the replacement of the camera equipment that had been mounted in squad cars and in police interview rooms.
Olson credited PESI Executive Director Mike Conner, the organization’s board of directors and hard-working employees with making the donation possible.
“We’re proud to have our mission support your mission,” Olson said.
He praised law enforcement for doing challenging and heroic work to keep the community safe. Olson also said the new video system will result in more transparency, accountability, safety and efficiency for local officers.
The leaders of local law enforcement thanked PESI for its generosity and spoke about how the new cameras will be used.
“Public confidence in the legitimacy of our actions is absolutely necessary,” Rokus said.
Officers will turn on their cameras when they are conducting traffic stops, responding to calls for service and investigating crime scenes, Rokus said. In the county jail, all correctional officers there will be issued a body camera, which they will turn on when doing their rounds and entering cells.
The new cameras will provide a factual record of police interactions and those videos will be useful for criminal investigations, civil litigation, handling citizen complaints and training officers, Rokus said.
Cramer also noted that videos from body cameras will also be another form of evidence that prosecutors can use in criminal cases.
And like written police reports, the public could file requests to see video camera footage as well, Rokus said.
On Tuesday, the City Council unanimously approved to buy the new video system from Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Axon Enterprises. One of the selling points for that system is it uses cloud-based storage of videos, as opposed to having those files stored on computer servers maintained by the city or county.
When city leaders spoke in summer 2020 about accelerating adoption of body cameras, one of the cost concerns was staff resources that would be needed to handle the video recordings.
“We’re hopeful the cloud-based platform would alleviate that need,” Rokus said.
The city had been preparing to pay for the new video system with body cameras in 2022, but PESI’s donation takes care of that.
The organization’s donation is for $482,728 this year for buying equipment and initial costs. Then it is providing $116,723 annually through 2025 to pay software licensing and data storage costs.
Of those yearly costs, $61,918 is attributed to the city police and $54,805 to the county sheriff’s office.
After PESI’s donation ends, the two agencies will need to find money for those ongoing costs within their own budgets.
Jay Winzenz, city finance director, said it’s very helpful to have four years to plan for that.
“It allows us to know that expense is coming and to try to start making room in our budget to accommodate that,” he said.