Sheriff's deputies get high-tech dash cameras

Aug. 24—It just became much tougher to be a criminal in Mineral County.

"These dash cameras automatically scan license plates, run them through the system and instantly display on the laptop screen if the vehicle has been stolen. They have a 90-degree angle so when driving through a parking lot they are scanning both sides of the patrol unit. Then while driving, it catches every license plate up to 4-lanes over," explained Mineral County Sheriff Mike Toth.

Toth worked with an earlier model when he was with the Seattle Police Department and was impressed then with the capabilities.

"This is the Axon Fleet 3 model which has just been released. We're the first law enforcement agency in Montana to have these."

The license plate scanning is remarkable enough, but there are more features that come with the six-year contract.

"When dispatch is trying to contact deputies and there is no reply, the LED monitor in the 911 control panel can be activated so they can see through the dash cam if the officer is in need of assistance or talking outside his vehicle, which happens outside of radio coverage. This is a great safety feature for our guys," he said.

It's an extra set of eyes on deputies who work alone and are often in remote locations. There are times an officer cannot be reached so another deputy is dispatched to the last known location only to find the situation under control but out of radio range. As long as there is cell phone coverage, the system is engaged and Toth said this range is much larger than their radio coverage.

The final feature uses GPS which has the exact location of every patrol vehicle at any given moment. Dispatch monitors a map where the officers are, and when backup is required, it can be tracked having a better estimated time of arrival than an approximate guess. The Fleet 3 is always recording which is how dispatch can view the live camera images. An option to have the same visual streaming from the officer's body camera can be added later.

Sheriff Toth reached out to the Montana Attorney General's Office and went over Mineral Counties policy on the license plate scanning of this equipment to be certain everything was lawful. Once it cleared with them, he pulled the trigger on the purchase.

By Montana law, an officer can only react to a license plate that registers it as a stolen vehicle, stolen license plate, missing person or if a warrant is attached to the license plate number. It has many more features for an officer to contact the driver but these are the four that the Montana Attorney General's Office allows by state law.

Since Sheriff Toth was sworn into office two year ago, he has stayed within the budget even with the purchase of 6 brand new patrol vehicles. Covid money paid for the newest technology for a 911 Call Center, new service weapons for each deputy, new body cameras and tasers, and patrol unit laptops.

"And this camera and GPS product was also covered entirely with Covid money," Toth said. "No taxpayer dollars whatsoever were used for this purchase."

Sheriff Toth decided not to run for his current position so his last day of service will be Dec. 31, 2022. The general election in November for the position of Mineral County Sheriff will be between Sg. Ryan Funk, Republican, who has worked for the MCSO for five years after eight years of law enforcement in Lake County.

And Gretchen Webb, Independent, who retired from law enforcement in Florda attaining the rank of Lieutenant and as a law enforcement instructor at Palm Beach State College. She has been a resident of Mineral County since 2015.

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