Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado said during a press conference Monday that Leo Horn apparently died as a result of injuries he sustained in 2010. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado told The Frontier he is set to announce that TCSO has found a way to fund body cameras for the department’s deputies. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado told The Frontier he is set to announce a “creative way” to purchase body cameras for the department’s deputies.

But Regalado wouldn’t say yet how he’d found the money to purchase the cameras, opting instead to release the information during a media conference he said will happen before the end of December.

“We’ve found a creative way to get the body cameras,” he said. “We’re just not in a position yet to announce how.”

Terry Simonson, TCSO’s director of Governmental Affairs, said in an email to The Frontier in November that he was “earnestly looking” for funds for the cameras, but had so far come up short.

The sheriff’s office currently has no dedicated recording devices for its patrol deputies, though some of their units have deployed more covert surveillance equipment in the past. Former Reserve Deputy Robert Bates was convicted earlier this year of killing Eric Harris in part due to footage retrieved from a key fob camera Bates himself had purchased for TCSO’s Violent Crime Task Force.

Regalado said that outfitting his deputies with body cameras is something TCSO is “highly motivated” to do.

tulsa county sheriff's office

The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

“It’s one of our goals we hope to fill fairly quick,” he said.

He said that once the cameras and infrastructure — possibly including offsite cloud storage of the daily footage — are in place, he would likely have to hire someone to man the video process.

“You really have to have someone dedicated to administer it,” he said. “It’s not just fulfilling (Open Records Act) requests, it’s reviewing video, or maybe a supervisor is asking for some footage, or something like that.”

The question at that point becomes how long will the video be stored? The sheriff’s office has faced spending and budgetary issues in the past, something Regalado has vowed to get under control. But the longer the video is stored, the more will accumulate. And the more video there is, the more costly it becomes to store it all.

Regalado said that’s yet to be decided, though he favors a period of time between six months to a year.

“I think that’s enough time to determine if the video should be saved or if it can be deleted,” he said. “There will be obvious cases, like a shooting, where the video will be preserved for longer than that. Or maybe there’s an (Internal Affairs) complaint and we need to pull that deputy’s video for that day. But if it’s a full day of video where nothing out of the ordinary happens, I think six months or 12 months is enough time to determine that.”

Regalado has pledged to be more transparent as sheriff than his predecessor Stanley Glanz, who was indicted and ultimately pleaded no contest to a charge of not turning over public records related to Bates. However Regalado has also refused to turn over to the media surveillance videos which allegedly show inmates being injured in the jail.

The Frontier currently has a lawsuit pending in Tulsa District Court against Regalado and the sheriff’s office over the release of some of those videos.

Tulsa police set to roll out more body cameras

Feeling comfortable with the gradual rollout of nine cameras to night-shift patrol officers, Tulsa Police Department Sgt. Richard Meulenberg said TPD is set to deploy about 30 more cameras on Saturday.

“We just finished working on some configuration types,” Meulenberg said of the nine cameras those officers have been wearing for a few weeks now. “We have pretty uniform settings now that we think will work for everyone.”

TPD received a nearly $600,000 federal grant last year for the purchase of the cameras, which they will eventually use to outfit more than 700 officers. But progress has been slow, in part due to the issues TPD faced when installing dash cameras on their patrol vehicles.

In 2010, the city agreed to pay more than $4 million to buy and install cameras in all patrol cars as part of the settlement of a long-running racial discrimination lawsuit.

The installation was part of an agreement that ended 16 years of litigation in a class-action case brought by black police officers.

The case was filed in January 1994 by then-Officer Roy Johnson, who alleged that the Tulsa Police Department discriminated against him and the other black officers in its ranks.

In 2012, Tulsa switched to a new style of in-car laptop to run the cameras, only to learn the cameras they purchased had been discontinued by the manufacturer.

So the city switched to a new high-definition camera, which presented its own problem. The recorded videos were much higher quality, but that meant the files uploaded from the squad cars were enormous, usually between 6 to 8 gigabytes of data.

That created a bottleneck when officers got off shift at the same time: It might take 15 minutes for one vehicle to upload their video, but if 10 cars arrived at the same time, it could take hours.

Those issues were eventually ironed out in 2015, but body cameras had become the recording device du jour for law enforcement agencies by that point.

“They are simpler in terms of set up,” Meulenberg said, noting that installing a dash camera meant taking a patrol vehicle apart and running hundreds of yards of wire.

The body cameras are cheaper, as well. While a dash camera might cost $6,000, the body camera model TPD has selected can be had for about $1,500. And since TPD already has Panasonic infrastructure created to handle the dash camera footage, the transition should be relatively seamless.

Body camera footage, like the department’s dash camera footage, will be stored for 26 months, Meulenberg said.

The body cameras will be “a paradigm shift” for a department that’s already seen the weaknesses of dashboard cameras, he said.

In September, officer Betty Shelby was charged with shooting and killing Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man, on a street in north Tulsa. The shooting was recorded via a police helicopter and the dashboard cameras of backing officers.

But by the time those cameras were activated, minutes of the interaction between Shelby and Crutcher had taken place. So when the cameras were rolling, they caught only Crutcher walking with his hands up toward his vehicle, then Shelby shooting him as he neared the driver’s side window and lowered his arms.

City of Tulsa employees Dan Ford, left, and Jason Edwards, right, watch as video is uploaded from a Tulsa Police Department vehicle during a test in 2015. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

City of Tulsa employees Dan Ford, left, and Jason Edwards, right, watch as video is uploaded from a Tulsa Police Department vehicle during a test in 2015. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

Shelby, charged with first-degree manslaughter, has maintained that Crutcher acted erratic, non-compliant, and aggressive prior to the shooting. But since her dash camera was not activated (dash cameras automatically activate during certain circumstances, none of which occurred as Shelby arrived at the scene) nothing like that will be available during her trial.

“Once you leave the car and go into the mall, or a store, we’re done, the (dashboard) camera is looking at a brick wall,” Meulenberg said.

Another issue pops up when a patrol vehicle is in the shop and needs days worth of repairs, effectively taking a dash camera out of service. And stripping the camera and wiring out of a car being taken out of service is so tedious that it might as well not even be an option.

The body cameras will alleviate those issues, Meulenberg said.

“There were times when I first joined the department that there weren’t enough radios to go around,” Meulenberg said. “It’s kind of crazy to think about the technology we have access to now.”