By Lora Scripps
The dash cameras in patrol cars are not the only cameras being used by some local law enforcement.
In addition to strapping on a duty belt and putting on a badge, officers with the Athens Police Department are donning cameras as part of their uniforms.
A total of 44 Taser Axon body cameras were recently purchased for the department.
In September, the department received an $11,460 TVA-in-lieu-of-tax grant from Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison, and Rep. Dan Williams, R-Athens, to purchase the first 34 cameras. The department used an additional $2,944 from a 3M grant to buy 10 more cameras.
Officers have been using dash cameras in their patrol cars for almost 20 years, according to Chief Floyd Johnson. However, he said, those cameras are not designed to be worn by officers as they enter homes, businesses, wooded areas or other places.
The on-uniform body cameras feature a wide-angle lens to capture the officer’s surroundings and give a better view of the scene. “The cameras record exactly what the officer sees,” Johnson said. The cameras also have a rechargeable battery and record video in a secure manner to prevent accidental deletion, according to Johnson. Videos are uploaded to the officer’s phone and are sent to a backup where they can be viewed by supervisors in the department.
Capt. Trevor Harris said officers could choose to turn on the camera as needed, such as witnessing a crime or encountering a suspect. “The cameras can be used in a number of incidences,” he said, adding they can be used to capture DUI field sobriety tests in a safer location other than in front of a police vehicle or they can be used to go inside a home in the case of a domestic disturbance. According to Harris, the cameras also allow for more than one point of view such as a wreck when more than one officer is working different parts of the scene.
“Body cameras are able to document the entire incident until the suspect is placed in jail,” Johnson said. “The footage can be submitted as evidence in court for our cases. If an officer witnesses a crime, he or she can immediately begin recording. This can be valuable evidence for juries. The body cameras also provide a means to protect my officers from malicious or unfounded complaints as well as allegations of misconduct.”
Johnson said the cameras are not meant to cause worry or concern to citizens. The cameras are not on at all times. Officers can push a button to activate the device. At that time, the camera will start recording but has the capability of pre-recording up to 30 seconds before the device is activated.
“It’s a tool to help us better do our jobs, “ he said, adding he believes it will improve officer safety and training.
Johnson said it is his understanding that when APD purchased the equipment more than six weeks ago it was the only jurisdiction in Alabama using the technology.
“I am pleased that Sen. Holtzclaw and I were able to assist our police department in securing the equipment necessary for their work,” Williams said. “These cameras will be used in a positive way within our law enforcement. They will allow our officers to document events for investigative and court use. It will give the officers a way to protect themselves from false accusations. We are happy to help those who protect us.”
Holtzclaw agreed, adding he is happy to help provide funding and to be able to partner with the Police Department and city. “To me, this is a public safety issue,” he said. “In lean times, I know our cities and counties are doing all they can and this is certainly a means to be able to enhance public safety.”