The police officers who patrol Buckhead’s Zone 2 district began wearing body cameras in April. That means all police interactions with the public are being recorded on video.
Atlanta Police Sgt. Angela Blue, an expert on the new technology, recently demonstrated the body cameras to give residents a better idea of what to expect if they call 911 or simply chat with an officer.
APD has been rolling out cameras to its officers since November, beginning with Zone 4 in southwest Atlanta. The rollout is nearly complete, with Downtown’s Zone 5 coming next.
A $400 HD camera that records sound and video is provided for each field officer through a $1.5 million contract with Axon, a police body camera company.
All officers below the rank of sergeant must wear cameras at all times when on the job. The cameras are worn on the center of the chest.
The cameras are always on, but the amount of video recorded, and for how long, changes depending on the situation. When an officer is not responding to a specific incident, the camera is in an automatic mode that records video for 60 seconds and then re-records over it. When an officer is responding to an incident, such as a 911 call or traffic accident, they are required to trigger the camera to record video of the entire incident.
Officers may be recording during other interactions with members of the public as well, such as when an officer is giving directions. It is up to each officer, Blue said.
“Do you want to initiate a recording if you’re giving somebody directions to Starbucks? No, but you can,” Blue said.
An officer puts the camera into recording mode by tapping a large center button on the device twice. The officer stops the recording by holding that button.
The cameras are waterproof and come with a mount that works on rain gear or heavy winter coats.
To upload the video to the secure storage, the officers put the camera into a dock. Video then is stored for 180 days if there was no arrest, and five years if an arrest was made. Officers must assign a video a corresponding case number, but that is the only modification that can be made to any video. No one can alter or manipulate it, Blue said, and only administrators can delete video and only after the required time has passed.
The video is also encrypted and can only be uploaded to APD’s storage. However, video can be released to the public if requested through an open records request.
Body cameras are being adopted by police departments nationwide in the wake of controversial police shootings as a way to keep officers and residents they interact with accountable.
Members of the public are less likely to accost officers when they notice the cameras are recording, Blue said.
“[The cameras] also help us keep our citizens in check,” Blue said. “Once [citizens] realize they have a body camera on, their whole demeanor changes.”
The footage also helps victims of crimes by providing evidence of what happened, such as in the case of domestic violence victims who may be persuaded by their attacker to not press charges.
“We have footage of what actually transpired. We have footage of how that person looked and how the house was in shambles,” she said.
“There are more benefits and a lot more positives than negatives than people are led to believe,” Blue said.