Following the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and the aftermath around the country, the Obama Administration unveiled a $263 million proposal which would provide body cameras and training for the nation’s police departments. The president’s three-year, $263 million investment package would provide a 50 percent match to states and localities that purchase body worn cameras and requisite storage. The proposed $75 million, three-year investment could help purchase 50,000 body worn cameras.
Body camera technology is not a new resource for several Georgia law enforcement agencies. Several Georgia city police officers have been wearing the cameras for some time, including officers in the city of Valdosta. Valdosta officers started wearing the cameras to assist with the investigation of complaints against officers and to function as a tool to keep both parties accountable for their actions. In one instance the Valdosta police responded to the scene of a shooting, where the victim was still alive when officers arrived. Officers were able to record the victim identifying the assailant before dying. The officers were able to use the recording to assist in the arrest of the accused.
Valdosta has taken implementing this technology a step further by crafting policies to accompany the technology. According to Police Chief Brian Childress, the police department has zero tolerance for officers not following the procedures and no leniency for officers forgetting to turn the cameras on during interactions with people.
“The policies govern everything from when officers are supposed to turn the cameras on to how and when the videos are to be downloaded and stored,” Childress said.
In Snellville, Police Chief Roy Whitehead has been working toward having body cameras for police officers for a long time. More than five years ago, an officer in the department bought one for himself. It was then Whitehead saw the value. The department began to buy body cameras for police officers who didn’t have them in their vehicles.
Now the department has 46 body cameras—enough for every officer—and dashboard cameras in all of its vehicles. Like a bulletproof vest and handcuffs, the cameras are a part of a Snellville officer’s standard equipment.
“The videos are invaluable in collecting evidence to be used in court cases and have also been used to investigate complaints from residents, which have cleared the officers of wrongdoing and helped change perceptions of the interactions,” Whitehead said. “Where we’ve had a video, we’ve been exonerated in all complaints,” he said. “We train our officers to believe they are being recorded all the time whether or not they are recording interactions.”
But in order for the body cameras to be useful, police officers have to turn them on. The camera, which resembles a beeper from decades past, is turned on by sliding down a cover on the front of its face. Once the slide is down, the camera is on; up and it’s off. After officers complete their shift, they return to the police station and download the day’s footage where it is stored on servers to be watched later or reviewed immediately. The videos cannot be edited.
Whitehead pointed out that the cameras are not infallible, and as with any technology, they sometimes fail. Battery life is limited and, again, the officer must turn them on before they record and it can be forgotten on an active call which demands an officer’s full attention. However, they do have an advantage over in-car cameras, Whitehead said. Body cameras can move with the officer’s vantage point while the car cameras remain stationary.
Whitehead said the body cameras are yet another tool in keeping the residents of Snellville safer and aid in transparency when it comes to community relations.
“Our goal is to utilize the best resources available—and we are always looking at what our greatest needs are—as we strive to help the community by providing the highest and most effective level of service possible,” Whitehead said.
Rep. Billy Mitchell (D - Stone Mountain) has filed legislation that would require all law enforcement agencies in the state to be equipped with body cameras and will establish a board governed by Attorney General that will promulgate rules and regulations for the usage of the cameras.
“We want to explore reasonable standards to which all law enforcement agencies will adhere,” Mitchell said. “The end result of using body cameras will show that most of our fine officers are doing a great job.”
The legislation as currently written does not include funding details.
“Law enforcement agencies should do everything in their power to safeguard their officers and the public they are sworn to protect,” said Union City Mayor Vince Williams, GMA’s Public Safety Policy Committee Chairman. “I agree with the usage of body cameras. However, from a policy stand-point, GMA will oppose any unfunded mandates that may stress the budgets of our cities—many of our cities simply cannot afford it.”