From left to right: GRDA Executive Vice-President and and Chief of Law Enforcement Brian Edwards, GRDA Officer Billy Blackwell, GRDA Officer Paul Mader, GRDA President and CEO John Sullivan. Blackwell and Mader were honored by GRDA administration Wednesday for saving the life of a drowning victim on the Illinois River in September. CLIFTON ADCOCK/The Frontier

The Grand River Dam Authority’s police force will soon be equipped with body cameras as well as cameras for patrol vehicles and boats.

The GRDA’s board of directors unanimously approved a $476,295 contract for the devices with body camera manufacturer WatchGuard during the board’s regular meeting on Wednesday in Tulsa.

The GRDA is a state agency created by the Oklahoma Legislature in 1935 to control, store and preserve the waters of the Grand River and its tributaries, as well as sell electric power generated from its hydroelectric dams, coal- and natural gas-fired power plants and wind turbines. In 2016, the GRDA also absorbed the powers and duties of the state Scenic Rivers Commission, which oversaw water quality in the Illinois River watershed.

The GRDA’s police force has seen substantial growth over the last decade. In 2009, GRDA employed 10 full-time law enforcement officers, who mostly worked as security at GRDA facilities or as lake patrol officers. In Fiscal Year 2019, GRDA had budgeted for 49 full-time police officers, as well as 50 additional part-time reserve officers during the summer.

Under state law, GRDA police officers have jurisdiction in much of northeastern Oklahoma — any county in the state in which the GRDA owns or leases property, such as dams, substations, power transmission lines or buildings, and are responsible for enforcing all laws of the state.

The GRDA has been considering equipping its officers with body cameras for several years, said Brian Edwards, executive vice president and chief of law enforcement, and tested the cameras out in the field last summer.

The WatchGuard models to be purchased are the Vista X4 Wifi to be worn on officer uniforms and boats and the 4RE System Bundle, which would go in law enforcement vehicles and boats, Edwards said. The vehicle and boat cameras are capable of syncing with a body cam worn by an officer or officers assigned to a unit, Edwards said, meaning that when one camera is turned on the other turns on as well, allowing events to be captured from multiple angles.

“The nice thing about this program is, say we’re all out working and I get in the boat with you, all I do is drop my camera in and it syncs to that boat,” Edwards said.

Some of the cameras will also be capable of recording in infrared for night operations on the water, Edwards said, and they have a feature that allows video to be retrieved even if the officer fails to turn the camera on, though audio is not captured in those situations. The cameras that will be on GRDA Police boats will record activity on the sides, front and back of the vessels, Edwards said.

Video captured by the cameras will be stored on GRDA-owned computer servers, Edwards said, saving money on storage.

“We don’t have to go out and buy cloud storage, which is a huge cost consideration,” Edwards said. “Several law enforcement agencies around the country are having to abandon their camera projects because they can’t afford the storage of the data.”

Edwards said he expects both full-time and reserve officers, as well as all GRDA law enforcement vehicles and boats to be equipped with the cameras by June 1.

The cameras should last for at least five years, Edwards said.

GRDA Board Chairman Tom Kimball said he understood the need for the cameras, but worried about the rising cost of keeping up with the requirements of modern of law enforcement agencies.

“I know we have to do this,” Kimball said. “If you’re prosecuting someone you’ve arrested, the first thing a judge is going to ask is ‘is there video?’ I think most of the cities have gone to have video. It’s a shame we’ve reached that in our society. It’s a shame we have our officers so much at risk today that we have to go to these expenditures. I tell you, it seems like every year we have to add things that are ongoing, ongoing, ongoing, ongoing, more and more cost for our customer base. At some point it gets overbearing.”