Athens Police Now Equipped With Body Cameras

By JOE JOHNSON, The Athens Banner-Herald | November 4, 2014

Athens-Clarke County, Ga., police officers recently added a new gizmo to their array of equipment – a camera that sees what the officers see.

With the cameras attached to officers’ eye wear, the video footage they capture allows investigators to view much of an incident from the officers’ points of view.

“There is no question that the recording of any officer-citizen interaction provides clarity to what occurred,” Athens-Clarke County Assistant Police Chief Fred Stephens said.

In Athens, officers assigned to the Traffic Unit and Downtown Operations started wearing body cameras on Oct. 13. Cameras have since been issued to officers who work the eastside evening shift.

The goal is to eventually wire up all Athens-Clarke County officers, Stephens said.

Although cameras play a role in criminal investigations, they are primarily used for officer accountability.

“There is a certain amount of transparency that goes along with this type of recording,” Stephens said. “It’s important to maintain public trust by collecting information and accurately presenting it.

“Anytime we can provide the information to an individual to make their own assessment of what occurred is a good thing.”

Sgt. Aubrey Epps, a Traffic Unit supervisor, said the body cameras are an invaluable tool both for investigations and officer accountability.

“When you are having someone perform a sobriety test, for example, you see exactly what the officer sees,” Epps said.

Police have long used dash cameras to record sobriety tests, but it’s not always possible to keep the offender in the camera’s stationary frame.

While clipped to an officer’s eye wear, the camera swivels with the officer’s head

and records video from the officer’s point of view.

“You can see the person’s eyes, their movements and slurred speech much better,” Epps said.

Although Epps said he believed the majority of Athens-Clarke County police officers already behave professionally when interacting with the public, he’s noticed that the behavior has become more pronounced with officers realizing that their every word and action is being recorded.

Video from officer body cameras are used in quarterly performance evaluations, according to Epps.

Also, video evidence from the camera system is easier to introduce as evidence in court.

Because the video is directly uploaded, there are no chain of custody issues that can be raised by attorneys when trying to place doubt on authenticity, according to Epps.

Stephens said that the body cameras now in use can assist in criminal investigations.

Nearly all investigations are commenced with the arrival of uniformed officers at an incident, and video footage they collect at scenes, whether searching for people and evidence or conducting interviews can be later reviewed by detectives.

“Sometimes in a rush, some information might go unobserved,” Stephens said. “This is another way we can hopefully conduct more thorough investigations. What is recorded by first responders is the initial phase of what could be a long-term investigation, so it’s important that information is passed along to investigators to develop leads.”

Prosecutors in the District Attorney’s Office also have access to the videos in preparing cases for trial.

It is a significant time-saver when the prosecutor simply has to logon to a computer to view recordings instead of the police having to make a CD and drive it to the courthouse, Stephens said.

Body camera videos will likely lead to more successful investigations and prosecutions.

“That camera essentially is another piece of information in fact finding,” Stephens said. It is not the end-all and be-all, but another field of view. No system is going to collect everything that is occurring at a scene, but hopefully it is recording what is in front of it.”

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