The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office is looking to add an extra set of eyes on patrol, in the form of cameras clipped to the front of police uniforms.
Deputy Stephen Jones, who has worn a testing unit for the past two weeks, said the technology is simple to operate. With a Muvi body camera clipped at about chest level on his uniform, Jones showed how video can be captured without even touching the camera.
A small beeper-style device clipped to his belt allows Jones to switch on video, snap photos and end the recording, all while maintaining eye contact with the person he is speaking with.
He said he records every traffic stop.
“You can upload the videos, download them to a CD and turn them in as evidence to rectify any kind of complaints against you,” he said.
The Waynesboro Police Department has been using the technology for the past two years. Police Chief Augustus Palmer III said all sworn officers are equipped with the cameras, including himself. They are required by policy to record almost every interaction with civilians.
“If the officer is doing the right thing, it’s his best friend,” he said. “If he is doing something wrong, it’s his worst enemy.”
The cameras that his department uses cost between $100 to $200 each.
Blanchard said the sheriff’s office is still in the testing and research phase. Much like the license plate reader technology it is testing, the agency will try several types and styles of body-worn cameras before making a decision.
The units currently being tested range from $400 to $500 each. Unlike the license plate readers, there is no extra start-up cost to ensure software and hardware compatibility. The test units can plug into any office computer and transfer files like a smartphone.
Lt. Lewis Blanchard said a 2012 study found that 85 percent of law enforcement officers say body-worn cameras reduce false claims of misconduct and the likelihood of litigation against the agency.
Palmer said he agrees. Since his department mandated the cameras on all officers, complaints against officers have dropped drastically.
Sheriff Richard Roundtree and Chief Deputy Patrick Clayton saw the technology implemented while working on the Richmond County Board of Education Police Department, Blanchard said.
“They saw that it was a positive thing and saw the results there, even on a smaller scale. That made them want to move forward with bringing it here,” he said.
The catch is the cost associated with using the technology on a larger scale. The sheriff’s office dwarfs the school system in sworn officers.
It might be a while before Augustans will see every officer with a camera. Blanchard said the soonest the sheriff’s office would purchase cameras is next year.
“Anything you’re testing and evaluating this year is for purchase next year,” he said.
Palmer said any agency looking into the technology should also look to include a policy on its use. He said that would help prevent abuse of the technology.
“Everyone needs to have a policy to not record each other,” he said. “We don’t need to record co-workers, just the traffic stops and the face-to-face encounters.”