A body camera worn by Brewer police is shown in this 2018 file photo. The Penobscot County Sheriff's Office will become the latest Bangor-area law enforcement agency to equip its officers with body cameras. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

This time next year Penobscot County sheriff’s deputies will be wearing body cameras and have dashboard cameras in their cruisers as their law enforcement counterparts in Bangor, Brewer, Old Town and Orono do.

It would be the second county sheriff’s office in Maine to have body and dashboard cameras after Androscoggin County, which has used them for about three years. Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce has requested both in his 2023 budget.

Police departments’ use of body cameras has increased in recent years as an oversight tool for the public as scrutiny of police actions has grown. But police have also found the cameras useful, as their recordings provide evidence to use in court and allow law enforcement agencies to investigate complaints against officers.

Penobscot County plans to lease body and dashboard cameras over five years, with all 50 deputies wearing them, according to Sheriff Troy Morton, who was reelected this fall without opposition. The county will cover the initial cost of $400,000.

The sheriff’s department received a $66,000 grant from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance to help defray startup costs. 

Morton recently issued a request for proposals from vendors, but the county hasn’t received any bids yet. 

“Policies and procedures will thoroughly be implemented once a product and system are established,” he said Wednesday.

The sheriff has wanted the cameras for several years, but improved technology made this the right time to make the purchase, he said. 

“Now, the in-car cameras and the body cameras are integrated,” Morton said. “Also, there’s software that allows us to merge the footage from the cameras into our reports easily.”

The digital images also can be more easily stored securely in the cloud rather than on CDs, as was necessary previously.

The body and dashboard cameras aren’t the only equipment investment Penobscot County is making in the sheriff’s office.

The county will also spend $40,000 to replace deputies’ service weapons, holsters and ammunition. The firearms need to be replaced every decade or so, Morton said.

In addition, the county expects to use about $24,500 it received from the federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes program to buy 24 new bulletproof vests for deputies to replace outdated gear.

Brewer officers have worn body cameras since 2019, and Bangor officers began using them last year. Old Town acquired them in 2020, and Orono police have worn body cameras since 2016.

The public has come to expect officers to use body cameras, said Jason Moffitt, Brewer’s police chief.

“Primarily they offer valuable evidence in court,” he said Wednesday. “They help ensure officer accountability and reduce complaints on officers.” 

Bangor police spokesperson Sgt. Jason McAmbley said the cameras have been helpful to the Queen City’s police force.

“It’s one of those items you wish you’d had since the beginning of your career,” he said.

The Hampden Police Department received a U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance grant that will pay for half the cost of acquiring body cameras. Chief Christian Bailey said that he hopes officers will be using them next summer.

“We are currently in the process of evaluating vendors and costs along with finalizing the policy,” he said.