Mesa County's two largest law enforcement agencies are taking body cameras for a test drive in preparation for what could become more widespread use.

A small number of officers from both the Mesa County Sheriff's Office and the Grand Junction Police Department have been field-testing the body-worn cameras during interactions with the public in recent weeks.

Leaders of both agencies have said in recent years they would like to start using the devices, but cited budgetary and logistical hurdles. When they started shopping for the right model, both agencies found plenty of variety.

"There are about a million and two different manufacturers," said sheriff's deputy Curtis Brammer. "We did quite a bit of research on the front end."

Both Brammer and police Cmdr. Matt Smith said usability was a top priority.

"Obviously we want something that's easy for the officers to use," said Smith, whose agency has tested out several products in recent years. "We want something that's durable, that provides us with good video."

Finding a unit that minimized the time that law enforcement officers would spend logging footage and writing extra reports was also important, Brammer said.

Both agencies are testing a body camera model from Axon, an Arizona-based manufacturer formerly known as TASER International and best known for its stun gun. So far, both Smith and Brammer said, it's going pretty well.

"I think our people that are testing it seem to like it," Brammer said.

The models communicate independently with both the record-keeping system and the system used by dispatchers, which means deputies and police officers don't have to spend an inordinate amount of time at the end of their shifts processing the day's video. Instead, footage automatically uploads to cloud-based storage, where it is automatically assigned to a case file based on the time and location the video was taken.

At the sheriff's office, 12 deputies from three different teams — the Crime Reduction Unit, the Rural Area and School Resource Officer teams — have been using the cameras since mid-November.

Brammer said so far the cameras appear to be particularly popular with the sheriff's office's rural area deputies, who patrol the most far-flung parts of Mesa County and are often alone.

Officers and deputies have had some extra steps to get used to — namely, turning on the camera when interacting with members of the public.

"I think there's a learning curve in the sense that there's one more thing you have to remember to do," Smith said. "There's going to be that learning curve no matter what we do."

While Smith and Brammer said they've found the Axon cameras and their system user-friendly, both departments will have their logistical work cut out for them when body cameras become widespread. They'll need to figure out a process to hand over footage as evidence in criminal cases, and a process to redact the videos if they're released to the public but contain footage that isn't releasable. They'll need to figure out their budget for buying the equipment and the cloud storage for the video files. The Sheriff's Office estimates it will need to hire at least one full-time employee to manage and redact the video footage.

Smith said the Police Department is looking to start using "some number" of the cameras next year, probably within the ranks of patrol officers.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Megan Terlecky said the Sheriff's Office isn't far enough along in the process to know how or when more deputies might start wearing the cameras.

Terlecky said when the Sheriff's Office is a little closer to a rollout date, it is planning an outreach campaign to help educate Mesa County residents on how the cameras work, what policies are in place around their use, and how the footage will be handled.