Officers activate cameras when necessary

The school systems in Richmond and Columbia counties have moved ahead with personal video camera technology even as their counterparts at sheriff's offices have lagged behind.

Much like the introduction of cameras to patrol cars, personal video cameras, which are worn on the officer's clothing, have been adopted by law enforcement agencies across the nation.

Richmond County school safety Lt. Richard Roundtree said the district ordered 42 cameras last year at a cost of about $16,000. The money was provided through a federal Community Oriented Policing, or COPS, grant.

So far, 31 cameras have been issued, and public safety officers began wearing them Sept. 2.

"You can see attitudes of people; you can see body gestures; you can see stuff that a report won't normally pick up," Lt. Roundtree said. "It also helps with inconsistencies and accounts in the incidents."

The use of cameras came to light recently when Richmond County School Safety Officer James Holmon was fired after being accused of taking a teenager to the ground and placing his hand around the teen's neck at a high school football game. The incident was captured on Mr. Holmon's personal camera and those of his co-workers.

Lt. Roundtree said the officer activates the camera when responding to an incident, and if something occurs a supervisor must be notified.

The officers are not allowed to download or delete the video themselves, he said.

Buddy Hendry, the director of school safety in Columbia County, said his officers have been using the cameras for three years. They cost about $640, and five of the system's eight public safety officers have them.

He stressed that the cameras do not run all the time and are turned on during specific incidents.

"It's off of discretion," Mr. Hendry said. "Whenever they feel the need for it."

Authorities from the sheriffs' offices said they have no plans to buy cameras for their deputies. The main hurdle is cost.

Both departments have staffs much larger than their public school counterparts.

"That's the problem -- money," Richmond County sheriff's Col. Gary Powell said. "It's hard enough to keep the cameras in the cars working."

Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or adam.folk@augustachronicle.com.