A close-up of a law-enforcement officer's chest equipment attached to the uniform, including a Taser, a body camera, and a portable radio.

Washington County Sheriffs Deputy Jarrod McCreary is seen wearing the department's new body camera system on March 8, 2021, in Hillsboro, Oregon.

Jonathan Levinson / OPB

Clark County’s attempts to start using body-worn cameras for sheriff’s deputies hit a snag in November, and it’s now looking more and more likely any renewed attempt won’t come until later next year.

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The wait is prompting civil rights groups in Southwest Washington, who have recently criticized several police killings of people of color, to push for urgency from the county’s board of councilors. Most recently, sheriff’s deputies shot and killed Kfin Karuo, 27, in October.

“There has got to be a way,” said Karen Morrison, executive director of the nonprofit Odyssey World International Educational Services. “They find money for salaries, they find money for them. But where is the pots of money that are set aside to protect Black and brown people in Clark County?

“Where is that at?” Morrison continued. “Oh, let me get this right: not in the budget.”

County financial officials said the yearly price tag for body-worn cameras at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office would start at about $1.8 million. That wouldn’t include startup costs of buying the devices, but county officials said they think they could tap into grants to cover those expenses.

The county’s newest ideas both call for public votes. In recent workshops, county councilors discussed two different kinds of sales tax increases that could pay for the program. However, the votes couldn’t be held until August or November 2022.

Jasmine Tolbert, president of the NAACP’s Vancouver chapter, said she’s concerned by the delay. She said trust in law enforcement remains low and recording devices would instill greater trust in case another shooting occurs.

“I am concerned that we will have another vulnerable person in our community killed by the sheriff’s department … and not have sufficient evidence to prove what actually happened at the scene,” Tolbert said.

It’s been about a month since Clark County voters turned down Proposition 10. The proposal asked voters for a small increase in sales taxes to help fund juvenile detention facilities and jails. County officials contended they could use the money already being spent on those facilities to pay for cameras.

Voters turned down the measure by about 17,000 votes. Civil rights groups, and advocates like Morrison, have said the county’s approach was too confusing for most voters. Voter turnout for the off-year election was also low — about 36%.

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“Even when I read it … it was like ‘Should I say yes? Should I say no?’” Morrison said.

Ed Hamilton Rosales, president of League of United Latin American Citizens’ chapter in Southwest Washington, supported Proposition 10 but has expressed frustration that the county hasn’t tried to find funding that didn’t require a vote.

Hamilton Rosales pointed out that councilors and Sheriff Chuck Atkins have all publicly stated they support body cameras.

“They have to start taking some responsibility,” he said. “They don’t want to tackle it in a more hands-on way.”

According to Councilor Gary Medvigy, the council is trying to be deliberate. The newest sales tax proposals also involve local cities, and he said the process would help give some uniformity across the community.

“Would I have liked to have seen it funded two years ago? Yes,” Medvigy said. “But the advantage here is that this gives us time.”

Medvigy expressed frustration that Clark County often loses millions in sales tax revenues when shoppers cross the state border to take advantage of Oregon’s lack of sales tax. He said the county’s best source to find money would be to cut from elsewhere.

“The simple answer is we don’t have any fluff (in the budget)” Medvigy said.

Still, others point out that the county council has historically hightailed away from raising property taxes. Washington law allows councilors to inch up tax rolls by 1%.

In a written statement, Councilor Temple Lentz — the only Democrat on the council — pointed out that the majority of the five-member council has voted against raising property taxes two years in a row.

“Due to an ongoing structural deficit, and a refusal by the county council majority to raise the revenues we need to actually fund our government at the levels our constituents expect and demand, we now have to wait,” Lentz said.

To Medvigy, property taxes don’t make the cut. A one-year property tax increase would raise about $780,000 in revenues, which he said, “doesn’t come close.”

According to Morrison, the county’s communities of color can’t wait. She said her nonprofit is working with local churches to buy dashboard cameras to give to Clark County residents of color for the holidays.

“While our community, the police force, the sheriff’s department, is debating budgets and funds — our lives are valuable,” Morrison said.

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