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WITC students lend hand in St. Croix County body-cam project

WITC criminal justice students Josh Sislo of Baldwin and Abby Page of Hudson helped assemble mounts for the St. Croix County Sheriff's Office body cameras earlier this month. Mike Longaecker / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College fabricated metal plates that were mounted to cellphone holders, which will be gripped by custom magnet packages to keep St. Croix County's new body cameras in place. Mike Longaecker / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

St. Croix County Sheriff's Office leaders were satisfied they had found the right body cameras for their officers.

They just needed the right apparatus to hold them in place.

The new cameras offer deputies different options — they're military-grade cellphones capable of audio recording and GPS tracking — but while testing the devices, sheriff's officials learned there was a drawback.

There wasn't anything holding them in place.

With standard body-camera mounts unavailable, the only other option was the standard mounting clips available to the general public.

Then St. Croix County Sheriff's Office Lt. Brent Standaert had an idea: What if there were a way to hold cameras in place with a magnet system?

"I wanted to have more mounting options," considering the rigors of law enforcement, which include running and other movements that could cause a camera to come loose.

He devised an apparatus that secures the cameras to uniforms by mounting a metal plate to the back of a standard cellphone holder. Then, by slipping high-powered magnets, the kind gun owners use to conceal firearms inside pockets, the metal-backed cameras would be gripped tightly in place on a uniform.

Weeks of testing proved the cameras didn't go anywhere and the magnets didn't affect the performance of the cameras, Standaert said.

Sheriff Scott Knudson signed off on the system, which became what all St. Croix County deputies will use to hold their body cameras in place once they hit the streets later this summer.

The department then enlisted the help of students from Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College's welding shop to fabricate the plates. Once they were ready, WITC criminal justice students came to the sheriff's office June 7 to mount the plates to the cases that carry the cameras.

The magnet-backed system will work in concert with new tailored uniforms that provide extra pocket space for the devices.

The body cameras are Kyocera smartphones that are used with the Visual Labs program that allows recordings to be uploaded through an app to the cloud immediately or once deputies can get a connection.

"Everything's automatic" in the process, said computer forensic investigator Shawn Demulling, who helped with the technical end of the program.

Sheriff's officials picked the Kyocera-Visual Labs program after testing four other products.

Among the added safety features is a GPS system that allows administration to gain remote access to the phones if a deputy doesn't respond to a safety check.

Knudson said his colleague Washington County Sheriff Dan Starry recommended the Kyocera-Visual Labs program. Starry gave the system high marks, but said, like anything, there's an adjustment period.

Knudson said his department will make adjustments as necessary.

"It's going to be a learning curve for everyone," he said.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

(715) 426-1072
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