Hancock County

All deputies need body cameras, grand jury says. County officials are asking for two things.

The Hancock County Sheriff’s Department has a few deputies using these BodyWorn smartphone cameras, which also are worn by police in Gulfport, Biloxi, Long Beach, Pascagoula, and soon, by Harrison County deputies.
The Hancock County Sheriff’s Department has a few deputies using these BodyWorn smartphone cameras, which also are worn by police in Gulfport, Biloxi, Long Beach, Pascagoula, and soon, by Harrison County deputies.

Another Hancock County grand jury has recommended the county find money to provide body-worn cameras for all of its deputies.

Sheriff Ricky Adam agrees, but said it will take time and money. The Justice Department’s release of drug forfeiture money could help, he said.

The sheriff’s department bought 12 cameras six months ago, but at least 25 more are needed, he said.

“We’re using these cameras and we’re going to see how this data cost goes,” Adam said. “I think it will give us an idea on actual costs. The data costs are expensive. But what we are using will give us something to go by.”

The grand jury included the recommendation in the final report for its six-month term, which started in February. The report was filed in the Circuit Clerk’s Office on Aug. 8.

Hancock County’s body-worn cameras are manufactured by BodyWorn, the same brand used by police in Gulfport, Biloxi, Long Beach and Pascagoula. The Harrison County Sheriff’s Office is expecting delivery of its recent purchase in September, Sheriff Troy Peterson said.

Hancock County bought its cameras with a five-year installment plan. The first-year cost is $25,700. Data storage costs could increase the price.

The sheriff used civil asset forfeiture money, often called drug forfeiture money, to pay for them.

The U.S. Justice Department froze the nationwide forfeiture program, which gives proceeds from seizures to the arresting agencies, in December 2015 over concerns, in part, of taking property from innocent victims and those who were not prosecuted for a crime.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced new policies and guidelines for the program in July. One provision is that law enforcement agencies must prove they had probable cause for a seizure. It’s unclear when monies will be released.

Adam said he believes it will be soon, and Hancock County will use those proceeds for more body cameras and other safety needs for his department.

In other matters, the grand jury repeated past recommendations that deputies’ aging patrol cars be replaced and courthouse security be improved.

Supervisors approved the purchase of a few patrol cars last year and for this year as well, the sheriff said.

Courthouse security will remain a concern because the building has several entrances, Adam said. That’s in comparison to Harrison County, where there’s only one entrance to courtrooms in Gulfport and Biloxi.

The grand jury, sworn in by Circuit Judge Chris Schmidt, was in session eight days and handed down 99 indictments in 161 cases considered.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews

Grand jury’s disposition of criminal cases

The February term of the Hancock County grand jury ended its six-month term by considering a total of 161 cases. How they were resolved:

  • True bills: 99 indictments.
  • No true bills: 23 with insufficient evidence to indict.
  • Cases returned to law enforcement: 34.
  • Cases docketed in error: 2
  • Cases passed to the next grand jury: 3.
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