Practices from the Field: Hogansville, Georgia Police Department
The Hogansville, GA, Police Department first implemented body-worn cameras in the middle of 2008 when former Chief of Police Moses Ector purchased two body cameras for a trail run at an International Chiefs of Police Conference. When we first deployed the cameras, there were two that were shared by the shifts. The cameras were not able to keep up with the charging requirements to remain functional so they were briefly decommissioned and spent a few months shelved. Chief Ector reissued one camera to me full time as a test subject to gauge the effectiveness of the BWC. At the end of the research period, the camera had proven itself an invaluable tool not only in documenting the actions of officers and subjects, but also in evidence gathering, interviews, and court proceedings, both criminal and civil.
The department ordered cameras for all mandated officers and built an in-house server to store video footage. We demonstrated the effectiveness of the BWC video to our prosecutors in the municipal, state, and superior courts. It did not take long at all for prosecutors to become accustomed to getting BWC footage with their case files. Over the ten-year period that we have deployed the camera systems, our DA has become reliant on the footage and requires BWC footage with each case file or a statement in the file by the prosecuting officer explaining why there is no BWC video. It has become one of the first items that defense attorneys request in court cases as well.
Some of the differences that we have seen with the deployment of BWCs from the beginning are astounding. In the beginning, officers were resistant to the cameras; they were viewed as a management tool for “keeping an eye” on patrol officers. As the officers began to use the footage for scene recollection, suspect identification, and evidence in traffic court to support citations and arrests, they began to understand that the cameras were a tool. This tool was deployed for the benefit of the officers and for the community in the department's Community Focus initiative. In researching footage over the years, we have seen a decrease in officer-subject negative interaction. The officers are aware that they are on camera and have become comfortable when interacting with the community. As the community began to see the outcome of the BWC video footage in court proceedings and in press releases by the Chief of Police, they too began to act a little nicer and more cordial. The footage from BWCs has reduced court time in several instances where an officer would have had to go to trial. After providing the footage to prosecution and defense a plea deal would be made. Now our officers do not want to patrol without a BWC. Officers use BWCs for field interviews, scene diagramming tools, surveillance, and many other applications. We also use the videos obtained for in-house training and scenario reconstruction.
Departments considering BWCs are concerned with three main things: what camera to use, how to store the video, and what charging system to (use docking station or individual). We chose our cameras because of their ability to do in-house storage, and we issue individual chargers with each camera. The officer carries his or her camera home as issued equipment and is responsible for maintaining a proper charge. We utilize a central server at our department for video download, and each officer has a unique password that allows them to download and access their videos. Departments with multiple precincts or stations will have to consider this when determining a storage system. For some, the cloud system may be best and for others, multiple in house storage stations. We learned that simplicity of operation is important. Officers learn through muscle memory to activate and deactivate the cameras. Our cameras have a simple slide bar. We felt that the simple motion would cut down on reaction time when activating under stress. The one aspect forgotten in general is maintenance, not of the electronics but of the external hardware such as clips, on/off switches, screen lenses, housings, and charging cords. We learned the hard way over time to have spare parts available for our officers. After losing an entire camera, we attached retention lanyards to each of them. Officers will lose cameras in struggles, foot chases, house searches, rescues, and sometimes just getting out of their vehicle. The lanyards have saved thousands of dollars in potential losses.
In closing, body-worn cameras are no more or less than a tool. How you choose to use the tool will determine how valuable it is to you. If you use it the right way, it will become one of the most valuable tools, not only in your box, but also in your prosecutor’s box and in some instances in the box of the attorney defending you and your department against a false allegation.
To learn more about the Hogansville, Georgia, Police Department, visit their website.