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Sheriff's Office to issue body cameras for deputies
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The Rockdale County Sheriff's Office is attempting to equip each deputy with their own body camera, using federal funds from siezed drug assets.

Sheriff Eric Levett and Chief Deputy Scott Freeman presented their request for approval of their initiative from the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners during their Tuesday work session.

Levett told the board that the RCSO will be the first sheriff's office in the state to use body cameras when the department issues them. He also wanted the board to know that the department has been planning on using body cameras since 2013, when Levett took office, and that the request was not a decision made after national protest against law enforcement agencies.

Post 1 County Commissioner Oz Nesbitt says that he fully supports the decision.

"I would like go ahead now and state for the record that I lend my 100 percent support to chief, sheriff," Nesbitt said. "I think this speaks volumes for leadership of the sheriff's office. The fact that you all are being proactive about it sends a very positive message to the community about the level of transparency and as well as the integrity of the department moving forward."

In total, the RCSO wants to use $332,650 of federal seized money to purchase 107 body cameras and 38 in-car cameras. The body cameras will be purchased from New York-based L-3 Mobile-Vision.

Newly elected Post 2 County Commissioner Doreen Williams had questions about the body camera policy that would be implemented along with the devices.

Freeman answered, "We are doing an extensive amount of research on how to craft this policy."

County Commission Chairman and CEO Richard Oden says that a lot more research needs to be done as far as how the and where the videos recorded will be stored, but Freeman told him that there's significant storage for deputies to archive videos right now.

"When we built the current system we have... We've positioned ourselves in 2013 to bring the remaining fleet online with in-car (cameras) as well as body cameras at that particular time," said Freeman. "When we rolled out the system in 2014, it had enough backend capacity to manage all the systems that we are bringing on."

After patrol deputies and a few others receive body cameras and more funding is found, there's a plan to give body cameras to each jail deputy as well.

However, state law has to be changed before body cameras can be used 100 percent of the time, says Freeman.

As it stands right now, Georgia law prohibits video recording in private places, which is defined as "a place where one is entitled reasonably to expect to be safe from casual or hostile intrusion or surveillance."

There will be a town hall meeting later in the year to get public opinion related to the use of body cameras, and the RCSO is also looking to obtain feedback from the public by way of their social media pages.

Rockdale County resident Betty Maddox says she worked in the law enforcement field for 30 years and she's gives her support for the use of body cameras because it's something that could protect the community.

"I think it's (vital) we move on this," she said. "What happened in Ferguson could easily happen here or anywhere else."

The board will vote on the item at their next voting session, Jan. 13, 10 a.m., at 901 Main Street, Conyers.