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Beginning July 1, 2023 law enforcement agencies across Colorado will be required to outfit their officers with body worn cameras. The camera mandate portion of Colorado’s historic policing legislation SB20-2017 requires prompt release of video footage and lengthy video storage. In a special series, investigative reporter Rob Low and producer Carisa Scott look in depth at how the law is affecting the state’s law enforcement agencies.

FAIRPLAY, Colo. (KDVR) — Park County Sheriff Tom McGraw is a big supporter of body worn cameras, though he doesn’t support how Colorado lawmakers went about mandating body cams for all Colorado law enforcement agencies by July 1, 2023. When lawmakers passed the body cam mandate in 2020, they did not provide the funding many agencies will need to purchase body cams.

“It’s a huge issue to be able to have that kind of money. We’re not talking $20,000 or $30,000. We’re talking $500,000, and that’s not easy for counties of our size or smaller,” McGraw said.

McGraw’s annual budget is $5 million, so coming up with another $500,000, he said, is a huge lift.

“For half a million dollars, if you’re talking about bodies, you’re going to have cut three or four bodies and we can’t afford to that. We actually need more bodies than we have right now,” he told the Problem Solvers.

McGraw said he will need about 40 bodycams to cover 19 deputies who patrol more than 2,100 square miles – plus he has another 19 deputies who work in the county jail in Fairplay.

While the body worn cameras are about a $1,000 each, the real cost is in data storage for the countless hours of video.

“I want to thank the state legislature and our governor for once again putting an unfunded mandate on our plate,” said a sarcastic Amy Mitchell, the newest commissioner on the Park County Commission.

Mitchell said the sheriff’s budget already accounts for almost a third of the county’s $15.6 million budget, so finding more money for body cameras will be a challenge.

“We have looked at the budget very closely, and we are a frugal, spendthrift county. We do not have fluff,” she said.

Mitchell and McGraw both told the Problem Solvers that Park County intends to apply for a portion of the $6 million being awarded in body camera grants by the Colorado Department of Public Safety. 

But there will be plenty of competition. A recent survey of Colorado police chiefs and sheriffs found 56% said they don’t have enough funding to comply with the state’s body worn camera requirements.

“Those are all people with their hand out asking for a portion of that $6 million, so it is not going to go very far,” said Mitchell.

She fears maintenance facilities and perhaps the fairgrounds in Fairplay could face budget cuts, while other projects could get postponed in order to ensure the sheriff meets his bodycam mandate by the deadline, since neither she or McGraw expect to get a $500,000 grant from the state.

“I will try and seek the most I can. If I can get $200,000, I’ll be very happy with it, but $6 million does not go very far in the state of Colorado,” said McGraw.

The Colorado Department of Safety is expected to announce on Sept. 17 how it plans to allocate it’s $6 million grant funds.