The Athens Police Department has seen few issues with new body cameras since equipping officers with them in November.
City Council approved for the city to spend about $214,000 on TASERS and body cameras from Axon, a law enforcement equipment company, in March 2019. However, APD didn’t receive the cameras until October. Trained officers implemented the cameras on Nov. 1, APD Chief Tom Pyle said.
The reports are better because the officers are able to review their statements and the statements of the people they are interviewing. Pyle said they have been able to review the video as well as talk about standard operating procedures, response guidelines and training.
Pyle said he is happy with the performance of the body cameras so far.
“I think there’s been zero downside and a ton of positive results from those cameras,” Pyle said.
All patrol officers are required to wear body cameras. Detectives in the Criminal Investigation Unit currently share one body camera, though there are plans to buy more.
The CIU has more leeway with using body cameras that is built into APD policy due to the sensitive nature of the detectives’ work, which includes interviewing people in private residences, Pyle said.
The Axon Body 3 cameras will be kept on stand-by mode, meaning the camera is on but not actively recording until an officer manually activates them. The camera will also record the previous 90 seconds up to the point it is activated by an officer. For the most part, officers will activate the cameras manually, Pyle said.
The body cameras also will activate automatically. The cameras will start recording when an officer activates the lights and siren on their vehicles and when an officer draws their TASER from its holster.
When an officer’s body camera is automatically activated by a drawn TASER, all officer body cameras in the vicinity are activated, Pyle said.
In the future, the body cameras will also activate when an APD officer unholsters their pistol. APD is still waiting to implement that feature because the department is still transitioning from 40 caliber to 9 millimeter pistols, which will require new holsters. APD is expecting to receive the new pistols in three months.
“Statistically speaking, officer-involved shootings are really rare,” Pyle said.
Like police reports and dash-cam footage, footage from police body cameras are considered public record. So far, there have been no public records requests for body camera footage, Law Director Lisa Eliason said.
All sensitive and personal information, like Social Security numbers and the identity of victims of rape, must be redacted before body camera footage can be made public. This has added to the workload of APD’s record department and the office of the city law director, which have to sift through the footage to make sure no sensitive information was missed.
“It’s something we went into understanding that that would be the case,” Pyle said.
Soon, the department is planning on hiring a replacement records clerk, who will be responsible for redacting sensitive information from body camera footage.
Pyle said he would have loved for APD officers to have been equipped with body cameras during the controversial arrest of Ty Bealer by three APD officers last September, according to a previous Post report. Pyle said this type of incident would have been what officers would have wanted body cameras for, due to the additional perspective that isn’t provided by cell phone footage.
While some cases will benefit from the additional perspective that body cameras provide, most of the footage is relatively uneventful, City Prosecutor Tracy Meek said.
“I think what the general public is going to learn and be really disappointed with is that body cam footage is, for the most part, very boring,” Meek said.