In an effort to raise transparency in the Guilford County jails in Greensboro and High Point, the county is spending $171,000 to equip detention officers with body worn cameras. Sheriff’s Department officials argue that the move will make the interactions between guards and inmates more civil and also provide an ability to better assess behavior of those working and living in the jail.

The Sheriff’s Department’s patrol officers have had the cameras for years.

The Guilford County Board of Commissioners has agreed to spend the money and soon Guilford County Sheriff Danny Rogers and other top brass in the department will definitely get a better idea of what goes on in the jails.

The department has requested the purchase of 160 body worn camera kits for the jail in Greensboro, known as “Jail Central,” as well as the county jail in High Point – a jail that’s not used nearly as much.

At the Thursday, June 1 meeting of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, a representative of the department couldn’t tell the commissioners how many cameras would be used in the High Point jail. However, he did say that the lions share would no doubt be used in the larger Jail Central, which can hold over a thousand inmates.

Written material from the department supporting the move points out that one of the primary benefits of body worn cameras for detention facilities is that the ability to capture video and audio evidence “will improve the civility of detention officer and resident encounters,” as well as enhance “citizen perceptions of officer transparency and legitimacy.”

In early May, the Guilford County Purchasing Department reviewed and approved this purchase of the cameras through a State of North Carolina cooperative bulk purchasing program that’s meant to keep costs down.

The $171,000 price tag includes cameras, docking kits and device licenses.

Over the years, some very strange and disturbing things have taken place in the county’s two jails. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day of 2010, Christopher Armstrong, an inmate who was being held in the former county jail in Greensboro on assault charges, was strapped in a restraint chair for about two days, and, when finally allowed to move, he died of a blood clot.

The county settled a wrongful death suit with Armstrong’s family for $475,000.

That ugly incident in Guilford County history would perhaps not have occurred if the officers were wearing cameras recording their every move. There have been other unusual deaths in the jails over the years, including deaths labeled as suicides.

Actions caught on one video from a wall-mounted camera in the Greensboro jail about a decade ago made it appear as though some officers were engaging in pre-arranged fight club like battles with inmates – though the video was ambiguous.

In the High Point jail several years ago, there were accusations of inmates and detention officers engaging in sex and even prostitution in the jail.