Deputies to be equipped with on-body cameras
by Wes Mayer
Beginning next week, every deputy with the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office will be wearing AXON Flex on-body cameras while on duty.
Half the department is already trained with the new devices, and after today and Friday, the other half of the department will be trained, said Coweta County Sheriff Mike Yeager. On Wednesday, Yeager, Capt. Mark Fenninger, Sgt. Warren Campbell and representatives Tony Huang and Jonathan Wrenn with TASER International – the company that manufactures the cameras – provided an introduction to the new cameras.
The sheriff’s office will be adding 100 of these new cameras, most of which will be worn around the deputies’ ears or similarly attached magnetically to glasses or sunglasses. TASER partnered with Oakley for the devices, Huang said. Each camera has a battery that lasts 12 hours and each one is capable of recording for eight hours, meaning officers’ entire shifts on duty can be recorded from their perspective.
Other employees of the sheriff’s office, such as deputies at the jail or criminal investigators, will also use the body cameras, which attach to the front of their torso. Sgt. John Kennedy with the criminal investigations department said the cameras will assist investigators at crime scenes.
While the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office is not the first agency in Georgia to introduce the on-body cameras, it is now the first sheriff’s office and the largest agency in the state, Yeager said. The sheriff’s office is joining agencies like the University of Georgia Police and the Athens/Clarke County Police department, and the Atlanta Police Department is also expected to use the on-body cameras soon.
Yeager said the cameras will greatly assist law enforcement during court trials and with any complaints the department gets against deputies.
“A lot of people have lost a lot of trust [in law enforcement], and it has become an issue,” Yeager said. “Hopefully, this will help build back up that trust.”
The department became interested in the on-body cameras last year, and in November, Yeager, Fenninger and Major Tony Grant visited TASER International in Arizona to learn more about the devices. In March, the sheriff’s office began testing a few of the cameras, and they found the models that attach to glasses or go around the ears are much better than the ones that attach to the officer’s collar or shoulder.
Yeager said, most importantly, the sheriff’s office worked to develop its own policy for the devices, which all officers have to follow.
“I believe everybody is going to start using something like this,” Yeager said. “More than just law enforcement, you will see it in fire departments and with EMS. It is a safety factor for the public.”
For the demonstration, Campbell and Fenninger showed two videos – one taken during the testing period of an officer pulling over a woman who turned out to be driving under the influence of drugs, and one of a foot chase that ended in the suspect being struck by the electric stun gun.
For the first video, they compared the on-body cameras to the in-car dash cameras to show how different a situation is viewed from an officer’s eyes. The dash cam only shows one view, but with the on-body camera, viewers – such as a jury – can see the inside of the vehicle, hear the exact conversation between officer and suspect, and see how the suspect acts emotionally. The on-body cameras also show other details, such as the suspect’s eyes or shaky hands, which can’t be seen from the dash cam.
“It helps with credibility issues, and it also protects officers,” Fenninger said. “And as with anything, there’s a learning curve.”
The sheriff’s office is also signing up for EVIDENCE.com, which allows deputies to synchronize their on-body cameras and upload the recordings to the website all through the system in their vehicles, Huang said. This allows the department to eliminate a great deal of paper because the videos can be pulled up and viewed from anywhere through the website.
The AXON Flex cameras cost around $1,000 per officer.
“It is another tool on the officer’s belt,” Yeager said. “It will help them do their job and let them go home.”