In November the Athens Police Department implemented the use of body-worn cameras for its officers.
Athens City Council discussed the possibility of body-worn cameras for over two years before they decided to enter a new five-year contract with Axon, the Arizona-based technology company that previously supplied Athens Police with Taser stun weapons.
When serving on City Council, former council member Pat McGee had called for city police officers to be required to wear body cameras.
“I had pushed for them (body cameras) at the start of my first term,” McGee said in a Facebook message. “Initially the chief made a proposal that was unaffordable. I then went to a conference where the chief and mayor attended, and there was a presentation of very affordable cameras.”
The new cameras are part of a package deal from Axon called the Officer Safety Plan or OSP7+. The plan supplies the police department with Axon’s newest model of Taser, the TASER 7, along with the Axon Body 3 body-worn cameras and new evidence-processing software.
The implementation of OSP7+ at the Athens Police Department is intended to optimize officer safety and streamline the way the department gathers evidence, police officials have previously said.
Over the course of five years, the new contract is expected to cost the city around $215,000. According to Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle, the new equipment and software will be more cost effective than the department’s previous system.
In an interview with The NEWS, APD Lt. Adam Claar explained some of the benefits included with the new equipment, including the camera’s automatic activation feature.
“It’s a Bluetooth activation feature,” Claar said. “So, if the Taser is turned on, if lights on cruisers are activated, if weapons are drawn or if a shotgun is drawn from a cruiser, then it will activate the camera automatically.”
The Police Department is in the process of switching its firearms from .40 caliber to a 9mm. After the switch, expected around May or June, the department will receive new holsters for their guns that also will activate the body cameras.
Along with the automatic activation feature, the Axon Body 3 is equipped with a standby mode that constantly archives video and allows the camera to record up to 90 seconds before it’s actually activated.
Once an officer has recorded a situation with the body camera, the video is redacted by Police Department staff to remove certain personal information, Claar explained.
The redactions are made in line with the APD’s policy on portable audio and video recorders, which reflects what’s considered private information in the eyes of state law.
“It’s really just standard practice,” Lt. Claar said about the body camera policies. “No different than any other record-keeping things, like a crash report or an assault report. We redact Social Security numbers or things that aren’t public record.”
The Athens Police Department has been using the new body cameras for just over three months, and so far the new equipment has yielded “zero issues,” stated Chief Pyle.
The discussion around body cameras for the APD gained new life last September after the controversial, forceful arrest of an African-American University of Cincinnati student on North Court Street in Athens by three white APD officers went viral on social media. While the city was already in the process of obtaining the cameras for the APD at that point, APD Chief Pyle and Mayor Steve Patterson noted that they had to delay full implementation of the body cameras until a training official was available, until sometime in November 2019.
Pyle had said at the time that he felt the body cameras would have helped the officers investigate that case. The UC student ended up pleading guilty to reduced charges late last month after it turned out that there was little video evidence of the officers’ approach to the student, The NEWS has previously reported.
– Athens NEWS associate editor Conor Morris contributed to this story