Denver to add body cams in downtown jail intake

Denver LEOs working in the most volatile area of the city’s downtown jail will begin wearing body cameras

Elise Schmelzer
The Denver Post

DENVER — Denver sheriff’s deputies working in the most volatile area of the city’s downtown jail will begin wearing body cameras as part of a program the department hopes to expand into the rest of the facility.

The Denver Sheriff Department plans to purchase 90 cameras for deputies working in the intake area of the Downtown Detention Center. Deputies will begin to wear them starting next year if the budget allocation is approved.

Unlike the body cameras, the cameras already in the jail do not record audio, Sheriff Patrick Firman said at a budget presentation Tuesday to City Council members.

“Many times when we’re looking at incidences and trying to evaluate what actually went on audio becomes very, very important,” he said.

The purchase of the cameras will cost about $60,000 and the department estimates the devices will cost $85,320 a year to maintain and to provide storage for the recordings.

The department chose the intake area because it is one of the most dangerous parts of the jail, Firman said. Inmates waiting to be booked into the jail wait there as well as those traveling for court. There are waiting-room-style chairs as well as cells.

People in the intake area are often detoxing or experiencing a mental health crisis, Firman said. Of all assaults of deputies by inmates in 2019, 18% have occurred in the intake area.

“That’s our area where we have the most volatility,” Firman said. “This is the area where inmates are brought in just off the street.”

The intake area was the site of one of the jail’s most high-profile wrongful death cases. In 2010, deputies there killed Marvin Booker, a homeless street preacher, by piling on top of him, putting him in a “sleeper hold,” and shocking him with a Taser. A federal jury awarded Booker’s family $4.65 million after a four-year legal battle over his death, which became a rallying cry for reform in the sheriff’s department.

The department wants to give cameras to all of its deputies at both the downtown jail and the Denver County Jail, but will have to use a phased approach because the department is so large, department spokeswoman Daria Serna said. The department did not have an estimate of how much it would cost to outfit its approximately 775 deputies.

“We believe this is a good area to start,” Firman said. “We plan on introducing this throughout the department.”

The department is working on a policy regarding how the body cameras will be used, Serna said.

©2019 The Denver Post

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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