Rock County Sheriff’s Office to wear body cameras beginning in 2021

JANESVILLE, Wis. – After it appeared the Rock County Sheriff’s Office had missed out on a federal grant, and with it, any chance to get body cameras, the Rock County Board voted to include them in the 2021 county budget.

“This is hopefully going to be a gamechanger for us and a major step forward,” said Rock County Sheriff Troy Knudson.

Knudson says initially, his department was hoping a federal grant could pay for the cameras. Yet just days before the 2021 budget was set for the county, he found out they weren’t going to receive it. Soon after, he says board members began trying to find a solution.

“I didn’t want the answer to be budgetary delays,” said Supervisor Doug Wilde.

Wilde says that’s when the board made the one-time amendment to foot the nearly $400,000 bill.

“I couldn’t be more happy or more proud to be a part of this decision,” he said. “It’s an initiative to move toward accountability for all involved. For those in the community calling for reform, saying ‘Address police brutality’, this program ensures sufficient evidence to back up charges against any county officer who engages in unlawful use of force. But also for our officers who live and work under the threat of being wrongfully charged, these cameras will provide enough evidence to protect against the possibility of being falsely accused.”

Knudson says he’s watched situations like Kenosha, where police did not have body cameras, create tensions after the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

“I’ve seen some of these incidents around the country and I’ve seen some of the debate that goes on with those,” Knudson said. “I just want to have the facts.”

The Sheriff says his department has very few incidents of police resorting to using force in recent years, however, he says he sees the cameras as a tool that can benefit everyone.

“I think what this gives us is transparency,” he said.  “I think if there’s concern about how an incident happened, we should be able to just roll back the tape and see. What does the tape show?”

The $400,000 price tag includes the cameras, which will be worn by staff outside and inside the jail, and a salary for an analyst to oversee the constant intake of video. Knudson says unlike other cameras, the ones worn by his staff will have the ability to pull video from incidents where officers are not actively recording.

He says he expects to have the cameras on and working by February.

“I think it’s the right equipment at the right time,” Knudson said. “I think it’s going to be good for our officers, I think it’s going to be good for the county and I think it’s going to be good for the community.”