Camera proposal prompts questions

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Osage County commissioners on Feb. 6 for a week postponed a decision regarding a request from the Sheriff’s Office to spend $6,000 on two portable cameras to record license plate information. Concerns arose during the commissioners’ Feb. 6 discussion of the agenda item, specifically concerning management of data to be recorded by the cameras.

Ronnie Stevens, a member of Sheriff Eddie Virden’s staff, told the Board of County Commissioners that a camera or cameras had proven beneficial to the Osage County Sheriff’s Office during a recent homicide investigation. Stevens said that a firm identified on the county board’s agenda as the Flock Group would provide two portable, license plate reading cameras for one year for $3,000 per camera. Stevens said the company would also be willing to provide, free of charge for a trial run of up to six months, an additional 10-to-15 cameras.

District 3 Commissioner Charlie Cartwright said he had no problem with the expense for the two $3,000 cameras, since the money would come from the Sheriff’s Office budget. He asked Stevens how much it would cost to keep the other 10-to-15 cameras beyond the trial run of up to six months. Stevens said that cost would be $2,500 per camera, and the Sheriff’s Office would have to evaluate the amount of benefit derived from having the cameras.

“It would be in a future budget,” Stevens said of the potential cost for any or all of the additional 10-to-15 cameras.

Where the concern arose about the cameras was in response to comments and questions by District 1 Commissioner Everett Piper. He questioned whether Osage County government might be getting “too close to Big Brother” with the expanded use of surveillance technology.

“You want these cameras outside your home?” Piper said.

Stevens acknowledged Piper had a legitimate concern.

“I’ve given that a lot of thought, myself. I, myself, have had a concern about it,” Stevens said, explaining he has dealt with a lot of search warrants. “I, also, personally take that very serious.”

“I can see where your concerns come from,” Cartwright said, adding he thinks it comes down to the integrity of the individuals overseeing the use of the cameras. He acknowledged that the potential for abuse exists.

Piper voiced a willingness to hesitantly support the camera purchase request, but he added that his concern was less for what local law enforcement might do than with whether federal law enforcement would have access to the camera data.

“Can you request that you control the information and only give it to other agencies upon request?” Piper said to Stevens.

Assistant District Attorney Ashley Kane also said she was concerned that the contract offered for the camera deal was very friendly to the Flock firm. She indicated a desire to review the contract further.

Cartwright made a motion to table the item, and Piper seconded that motion, which passed. The county board’s agenda for Feb. 13 indicated the item would come up again for consideration on that date.