Grant Money Wasted? Sampson Sheriff Gets $1.2M For Cameras He Can’t Use

By Robert Jordan
Dunn Daily Record

SAMPSON COUNTY – The Sampson County Sheriff’s Office received a $1.2 million grant to purchase dash cameras for its vehicles and body cameras for its deputies, but Sheriff Jimmy Thornton says that’s money the county won’t let him use. His budget battle with county leadership continues.

Thornton claims County Manager Ed Causey will not allow the county to fund the additional costs of operating the cameras after Thornton offered to pay an additional $100,000 to make up the differences in the purchase price and offset a one-time fee for storage cost.. Only $460,000 stands in the way of purchasing all of the cameras needed and operating them for five years.

During the budget planning process for the fiscal year 2021-22 in Sampson County, Thornton requested funding for the security cameras for his department. His request was denied due to “lack of funds.”

“I reached out to members of the North Carolina General Assembly,” said Thornton. “After making application for funding from the state, we received approval for the grant.”

The county wanted the sheriff to fund the purchase and five year operation of the cameras with the grant money received from the state. The county’s information technology staff insisted the county use cellular technology to store the video data in “the cloud” instead of on local file storage devices. That added to the cost.

The sheriff needed 92 cameras to completely outfit the deputies and the cruisers. The cost of this purchase was quoted as $1.3 million. Thornton agreed to use $100,000 of seizure and forfeiture funds to make up the purchase price with the grant.

Initial quotes for cellular service and cloud storage were $850,000 for five years of service.

“I suspect that it might be difficult to ‘pre-pay’ AT&T Wifi Yearly Data charges (estimated at $44,160 annually), but look forward to hearing how that might be accomplished,” former Assistant County Manager Susan Holder told Thornton in an email obtained through a public records request.

Thornton researched the matter and said he found a local provider that would sell the county the needed data storage service under a five-year contract for $6,834 a month ($410,040 total). This price was almost $440,000 lower than original quotes obtained by Sampson County.

Thornton offered to pay an extra one-time charge of $12,000, but the county would still be on the hook for $410,000 over five years. County leadership refused, citing limited budget funds.

In a letter to Causey on Jan. 13, District Attorney Ernie Lee endorsed Thornton’s endeavor to equip his deputies and vehicles with cameras.

“Although, I am aware there are recurring substantial fees for maintenance and other matters that are outside the original grant for the cameras that the county and taxpayers must pay, from my experience, this is an investment by the county that is well worth the costs associated,” wrote Lee.

“I highly recommend that Sampson County strongly consider funding any costs associated with maintaining and utilizing cameras by law enforcement,” Lee said. “Cameras and video can exonerate the innocent and convict the guilty. But ultimately, we should all be about justice and making sure that facts are transparent and that the public has confidence in law enforcement, county government, and prosecutors. The investment in this technology is not only recommended by me but I contend is essential in demonstrating that justice is being done.”

When asked about this situation, Causey responded, “They were directed to utilize the grant in a manner that included all operating and maintenance cost for the next 5 years.”

Thornton says that if he follows these instructions from the county, he will then have to pick and choose which vehicles and which deputies receive the protection the camera system provides.


  1. A 100$ smartphone has a mic and camera. These 92 cameras for 5 years cost roughly $15,000 apiece. Wth mate no one can waste money like the govt

    • You do understand that the storage for the videos is what is going to cost so much right? Say a traffic stop goes bad and it turns from a 10 minute video into a 4-5 hour video. That’s several gigs of data, all of which has to be stored indefinitely as evidence. Now imagine having several of those in a week between several deputies, storage gets to be an issue. And depending on the dash cam it could have GPS for tagging purposes, infra red for low-no light situations, and audio of course. I don’t think the camera on a $100 smartphone could handle the job.

  2. Wanting to use public grant money to fund police cameras that make recordings that aren’t part of the public record (thanks NC Leg 132-1.4A). #Hypocrites #VoteOutIncumbents

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