WICHITA COUNTY (KFDX/KJTL) — A new era of safety and accountability is on the horizon for the City of Wichita Falls after the City Council gave the Wichita Falls Police Department the green light to apply for funding for body cameras for every officer.
Sgt. Charlie Eipper, Public Information Officer for the WFPD, said this is the first step in creating a safer environment for the residents of Wichita Falls.
“For citizens, they know that they can feel safe that if something is done wrong or the officer acted unprofessionally, we have it recorded, you know, the evidence is there either way,” Sgt. Eipper said.
City officials said once the grants needed to fund these body cams are applied for, it typically takes about 90 days before those funds are given to the city.
Wichita Falls Mayor Stephen Santellana said it’s not just community members that will benefit from adding body cams on WFPD officers.
“It helps for both sides, to tell you the truth,” Santellana said. “You know, our officers and then also the people that are involved in any of these incidents or being pulled over.”
The WFPD joins several other law enforcement agencies in Texoma that have equipped their personnel with body cameras in recent years.
Last November, the Wichita County Sheriff’s Office acquired over 70 body cameras. They’re being equipped on patrol deputies, jail staff, and courthouse security.
Wichita County Sheriff David Duke has seen first-hand what his deputies have to experience on a daily basis, and he said that’s why body cams are so crucial for law enforcement.
“A lot of people have a misconception, they don’t know the reality of what criminals, people that are actors that want to do things to hurt, to evade,” Sheriff Duke said. “Fight of flight is what they go through, and once again, that’ll all be captured to see what lead up to that event.”
After the Wichita County Commissioner’s Court approved the purchase of the body cams and the infrastructure to support them, it took several weeks for the equipment to arrive. Now that everything needed to operate the cameras is in place, Sheriff Duke said deputies have been equipped with them for about a week.
“Just the fact that we have that and the transparency, where everything will be out there is just great,” Sheriff Duke said.
According to Sheriff Duke, the system in place at the WCSO will not only record cameras in every incident, traffic stop, and call for assistance, but if several deputies are responding to a call, one body cam being activated will automatically activate all other deputies body cams as well.
Sheriff Duke said it adds another layer of accountability and safety for their personnel to fall back on. And the men and women who wear the cameras every day, like WCSO Patrol Deputy Donald Osborn, couldn’t agree more.
“When you’re encountering a call or a traffic stop, it gives the deputy a sense of security knowing that everything is recorded, their actions are recorded as well as the suspect or the reporting party,” Deputy Osborn said.
Osborn said he welcomes the body cams and thinks it will show the community the level of professionalism WCSO deputies conduct themselves with.
“I think for a very long time the public has demanded that agencies, law enforcement agencies especially have body cameras,” Osborn said. “I think it puts them at a little bit of ease knowing that we have body cameras, and again, it’s a great way for an agency to be transparent in every encounter we come across on a daily basis.”
Although the cameras have only been in place for barely a week now, Sheriff Duke said they’re already changing the game for the county.
“There’s too much in the world, in our country where people don’t like cops or law enforcement,” Sheriff Duke said. “Ya know, everybody says ‘All cops are liars’, and things of this nature. This will obviously show different.”
And if it has the kind of impact on the police department that it’s had so far for Wichita County, Sheriff Duke thinks it’ll be more than worth it.
“Overall, it’s gonna be just a game changer in people’s belief in what law enforcement does,” Sheriff Duke said. “Not just in our community but across the United States as this continues moving with people with body cameras.”