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The Hamilton County Commission voted Wednesday to approve a $4.3 million contract with a large provider for police technology for the sheriff's office purchase of body-worn cameras, cloud storage services, and other equipment that needed updating.

The move comes just under three weeks after a "catastrophic data loss" caused thousands of Hamilton County Sheriff's Office videos from dashboard cameras to disappear, something that potentially could jeopardize criminal and civil cases.

All dash camera footage for all 130 patrol deputies between the affected dates was lost after a software failure on Jan. 13, according to a letter hand-delivered to the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office late last month. The footage could not be recovered, as that was the only server used to store the videos.

Sheriff's office personnel have said that video requests fulfilled before Jan. 13 were preserved because the videos were downloaded and released to the requester. And they said only "a couple" of requests made after the failure — none of which involve cases of alleged police brutality, they said — were unfulfilled.

While Sheriff Jim Hammond has said the loss couldn't have come "at a worse time," he said Wednesday that it gave his office more "power to say to the commission, 'We really need this,' but they were very willing to give us the equipment we need."

At the time of the loss, sheriff's office personnel said investing in a new system would cost about $1 million. But the contract approved on Wednesday — at a price of $4.3 million over the course of five years — includes more than just the cost of a cloud-based storage system.

It calls for the purchase of 225 body-worn cameras, something the sheriff's office had already been testing with a few deputies but had not purchased departmentwide. And it includes the renewal of the fleet's 150 dashboard cameras, as well as 225 new stun guns, updated recording technology for seven interview rooms and the cloud storage system.

The first year's cost — $762,078 — is already in the budget, according to documents provided to the commission. The remaining four years will call for an additional $893,294 each year.

January's loss of video footage came amid several federal lawsuits, many of which involve now-criminally indicted former deputy Daniel Wilkey, whose charges include six counts of sexual battery, two counts of rape and nine counts of official oppression.

At least two attorneys representing clients in those cases filed motions in federal court requesting a judge order the county to preserve all electronic evidence and allow the plaintiffs to conduct a forensic examination of all technology involved with preserving dash camera videos. A hearing has yet to take place, but a judge has demanded the server remain "non-accessible" until then.

The new system will be a help with accountability, Hammond said, noting that the department "won't have to worry about if a hard drive goes down or some kind of piece of equipment fails, that we're going to lose data."

"Everybody agrees that had we had some of this in place before, we would have been in some better shape," he said. "But again, any pending lawsuits are not affected by that crash."

He noted that the public has felt as though the loss of videos "could be a case that we covered up by having [the footage] destroyed, and that's just not the facts."

"That's all about being open and honest, even though we may be guilty sometimes," he added. "We're going to take our licks and move on."

Hammond said the addition of body cameras has been received positively among his deputies.

"It protects them," he said. "And shame on them if it doesn't."

The county has been under scrutiny for how it handles records. An attorney filed an open records lawsuit against the county, and another attorney has repeatedly accused the county of slow-walking records requests in order to run out the statute of limitations. In addition, a citizen has accused the county of stonewalling records requests, and the county destroyed records sought by a Times Free Press reporter.

Contact Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @Hughes Rosana.

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