By Sarah Nagem
Deputies with the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office will start using body-worn cameras on Nov. 1, officials said.
The cameras, which are designed to record deputies’ interactions with the public, will “provide accountability,” the sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post on Friday.
Some residents have pushed for the use of body-worn cameras in Robeson County, which has one of the highest violent-crime rates in North Carolina.
The family of Matthew Oxendine, who was shot and killed by members of the sheriff’s office SWAT team in January, have said cameras could have shown what happened that night. Oxendine had a history of drug abuse and mental health issues.
“Body cameras will benefit both the officer and the public,” Sheriff Burnis Wilkins said in a statement. “I am a proponent of body camera usage as it holds us accountable and is in the interest of transparency thereby providing an extra layer of protection to the men and women in uniform and the public.”
Law enforcement agencies across the United States have increasingly used body-worn cameras whose footage can be stored. In North Carolina, footage from cameras worn by Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies who shot and killed 42-year-old Andrew Brown in April became a big part of the investigation.
Ultimately, Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble declined to press charges against the deputies.
Deputies were also not charged in Oxendine’s death in Robeson County. Oxendine called 911 and quickly disconnected the call the night of Jan. 9. When a dispatcher called back, Oxendine said he was going to “bleed out.”
The sheriff’s office said Oxendine pointed “what appeared to be a firearm” and threatened deputies before the SWAT team shot him as he sat in the driver’s seat of a PT Cruiser. An autopsy report from the state medical examiner’s office shows Oxendine was shot several times, sustaining wounds from a high-powered rifle, 12-gauge shotgun and .40-caliber handgun.
Oxendine’s brother, Greg Oxendine, said he wondered what cameras would have shown that night.
“You know the truth with a camera,” Greg Oxendine told the Border Belt Independent over the summer. “This is a SWAT team. Why don’t you have cameras on a SWAT team?”
The Robeson County Sheriff’s Office bought 75 Motorola/WatchGuard body-worn cameras at a cost of more than $220,000, the department said. The cameras will be used by the patrol division, traffic division, SWAT team, school resource officers at high schools and more.
Taxpayers didn’t foot the bill for the cameras, which the sheriff’s office said were purchased with money from the unauthorized substances tax. People in possession of illegal substances such as drugs or moonshine can be subject to the tax, according to the N.C. Department of Revenue.
The sheriff’s office has 137 full-time deputies, according to a document provided by the department.
“More cameras will be purchased as funding allows,” the sheriff’s office said.
Starting Nov. 1, the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office will also begin using VIPER, an initiative that allows emergency responders from different agencies to communicate.
After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, “it became even clearer that public safety officials needed to have the ability to communicate with one another on a single radio,” according to the N.C. Department of Public Safety.
The system can also be helpful during natural disasters.
“Recent hurricanes in Robeson County also have shown the need for such a system,” the sheriff’s office said. “Viper radios also provide the capability to identify first responders in a time of distress. … With the press of an emergency button, a distressed officer or first responder can alert the 911 communications center he or she is in need of help.”