EAU CLAIRE — Body cameras for Eau Claire city and county law enforcement officers should be a permanent feature later this year.
According to Joel Brettingen, Eau Claire County undersheriff and captain of field services, a local company, which Brettingen declined to name, has agreed to pay for dashboard cameras in squad cars, body cameras and interview room cameras, plus maintenance of the equipment, for the next four years for both the Eau Claire City Police Department and Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Office.
Starting next week, Brettingen said a few weeks of testing will take place among members of ECPD and ECSO. Testing of body cameras for patrol and correctional officers, plus dashboard cameras in patrol vehicles, will occur.
After that testing, the entities should have camera agreements finalized by September.
“I anticipate in the third quarter (of this year) we should be pretty well set,” Brettingen said. “We will have them by the end of the year for sure.”
Brettingen provided this information to the county Judiciary and Law Enforcement Committee during its Wednesday afternoon meeting.
In response to a question from County Board Chairman Nick Smiar, Brettingen said body cameras, which are worn on an officer’s chest, will likely automatically activate after specific actions, such as when a patrol vehicle door is opened, a vehicle siren turns on or a weapon is drawn.
“Hopefully there will be very, very few times that the cameras don’t catch anything,” Brettingen said.
Protective status for correctional officers
During a meeting in June with local state legislators, the Judiciary and Law Enforcement Committee will prioritize granting protective status to correctional officers who work at the Eau Claire County Jail.
Protective status would allow correctional officers to be eligible for retirement at age 50 and duty disability benefits if applicable. Granting protective status to correctional officers in Eau Claire County can be done by changing state law or by the County Board approving a proposal to do so.
Sheriff Ron Cramer said protective status has been an ongoing issue for about two decades and hopes it can be resolved soon.
“We’ve gotta make our correctional officers feel like first-class citizens,” Cramer said. “That would be our number one issue that impacts us from a financial standpoint and from a morale standpoint.”
Capt. Dave Riewestahl with the Sheriff’s Office’s security services division said a rough estimate of implementing protective status would cost the county about $750,000 per year.
Committee members agreed with protective status being its top priority, saying it would likely decrease turnover among correctional officers in the county jail, which is an ongoing challenge. It costs about $50,000 to recruit and train a new correctional officer. Supervisor Jerry Wilkie, the committee chairman, called high turnover a costly, “age-old problem.”
Riewestahl said the county jail is currently dealing with three correctional officer vacancies, and he expects more in the next few months. Riewestahl said two prospective employees are currently going through training, and the county is recruiting for the one remaining slot.
Riewestahl said the occupation is demanding and worthy of protective status.
“I have not found a tougher job in my law enforcement career,” Riewestahl said during a committee meeting last month. “It’s tiring and it’s mentally challenging to be a correctional officer for years, and then to not be protected and to have to do it until you’re 55? … That’s a long time.”
• As of Monday, the county jail has zero active cases of COVID-19. So far, the jail has administered 518 tests, 28 of which were positive, which is a 5.4% infection rate. All 28 people have recovered, and there have been zero hospitalizations or deaths. Twenty-six white people, one Black person and one American Indian person have been infected with COVID-19. Twenty-two men and six women have tested positive.
• In March the average daily population at the county jail was about 182 people, up from 177 in February. Of that average, 162 people were housed in the secure section of the jail, an increase from 161 in February and 74% of the secure portion’s functional capacity of 220 people. Twenty people were housed in the Huber work release section, up from 13 in February.
The next Judiciary and Law Enforcement committee meeting is scheduled for May 26.