SNELLVILLE – Addressing a nationwide need, the Obama Administration has unveiled a $263 million proposal which would provide body cameras and training for the nation’s police departments so police-citizen interactions could be better documented.
But in Snellville, police Chief Roy Whitehead said his department is already ahead of the president’s plan.
“The events in Ferguson, MO didn’t make our decision,” Whitehead said of the Snellville Police Department’s usage of body cameras. “This is something we’ve been working toward 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 VIEVU 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 SPD 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 citizens 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 VIEVU 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.
However, the cameras are not infallible 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. 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.