Hancock County

Grand jury: Body cameras for all Hancock County patrol officers

JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD 
 Biloxi police patrolmen Steven Dorcik, right, and Aaron Allen show the body cameras their officers wear. The system is not specifically designed for police work, but the department is evaluating other systems.
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD Biloxi police patrolmen Steven Dorcik, right, and Aaron Allen show the body cameras their officers wear. The system is not specifically designed for police work, but the department is evaluating other systems. SUN HERALD

BAY ST. LOUIS -- A Hancock County jury wants body-worn cameras for all patrol officers with the sheriff's office and the Bay St. Louis, Waveland and Diamondhead police departments.

The grand jury made the recommendation in its final report for a six-month term that started in August and ended earlier this month.

The recommendation asks that "all political entities" look into funding so all patrol officers can wear body cams.

Body cams are a growing trend nationwide, a practice the U.S. Justice Department recommends to improve transparency, document police performance and interaction with the public, and for investigating complaints, crimes and officer-involved incidents.

Six of 11 police departments across Harrison, Hancock and Jackson counties have body cams for all their patrol officers, according to a Sun Herald review in July. Waveland and Ocean Springs started using them six or seven years ago. Bay St. Louis purchased 25 last summer.

"Everyone tends to behave better when an officer is wearing a body cam and the public knows it," Waveland Police Chief Dave Allen told the Sun Herald.

The costs of the body cams, though, isn't the key financial issue, police chiefs say. Paying to store the data is the largest cost.

Investigations, training eyed

The grand jury also recommended the county's law enforcement officers continue studies regarding investigative techniques and that agencies deliver their criminal files to the District Attorney's Office in a timely manner to ensure speedy trials.

Also, the grand jury recommended officers continue to use the shooting range at Stennis Space Center and that local governments review law enforcement salaries to make them more competitive with those at neighboring agencies.

Courthouse security

Jurors echoed a concern shared by previous panels for five years -- the Hancock County Courthouse needs metal detectors and video surveillance equipment to improve security and for the safety of employees and the public.

The historic building, built in 1911 and heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, re-opened in 2009 after a $5.5 million renovation and addition project. It has four entrances. Courthouse security officials in many areas of the nation generally recommend only one entrance to sensitive areas and a magnetometer, a walk-through metal detector, to protect people, property and information.

Jurors recommended county supervisors and municipal officials consider security cameras for public parks and piers as well. Aside from promoting public safety, cameras could assist law enforcement officers, the report said.

The grand jury visited with county officials and toured buildings including the jail, justice court and youth court.

The jury, impanelled by Circuit Judge Lisa Dodson, was in session seven days.

Jurors reviewed 144 criminal cases and returned 85 indictments.

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