On-body cameras worn by law enforcement officers may be in the news recently but the idea of finding cameras that are durable and affordable has been a long time coming for the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office.
Having experimented with cameras since 2007 with limited success, the sheriff currently is evaluating two types of camera systems for road deputies and jailers.
Sheriff Barry Babb said the sheriff’s office initially used shoulder-mounted cameras as far back as 2007, but found little success with the units.
“We originally got cameras for the deputies who didn’t have in-car cameras, but the technology was not sufficient to meet our needs,” said Babb. “Today, we’re testing and evaluating the Taser Axon Flex camera.”
The very small Taser Axon Flex can be worn by attaching to areas such as a thin headband or on glasses. The camera goes where the deputy goes and sees what the deputy sees, which is a significant benefit compared to the in-car video that has a much more limited view.
Another type of Axon camera can be worn on an officer’s shirt in the abdomen area or on a belt.
The jail in years past also used a few small camera units but those, too, did not work well, Babb said.
The sheriff’s office today is testing the Vievu camera and an Axon on-body camera for use in the jail.
Babb said his office is testing several of each of the camera systems.
Whether on the road or in the jail, Babb said a camera company’s longevity and tech support are critical components when it comes to purchasing the correct camera system.
“You want to make sure with big purchases that the company stays in business, that you can get software updates and that there is tech support available,” Babb saId, noting that such has not always been the case with previous camera systems. “And we want to make sure the camera works and has reasonable longevity. An issue with the technology is that the products go out of date after several years with no technical back-up available.”
As for the reason to outfit deputies and jailers with a camera, Babb said the need is two-fold and exists as much now as it did years ago when the first cameras were used.
“It’s as much for the protection of the officers as it is for the public,” said Babb, adding that sufficient technology provides for better evidence collection, better prosecution and can reveal internal issues that need to be addressed. “There’s a real value in the officer protecting him or herself and protecting the public.”
The difficulty involving cameras is the cost of the equipment and, especially, the storage of data, said Babb, noting that the cameras are not currently budgeted.
The Taser Axon Flex comes with a price of approximately $350 per unit. But considering that amount of digital data likely to be generated, a potentially bigger question, in terms of cost, will be the storage of that data and the amount of time needed to store it.
To that end, Babb said his office is evaluating whether it would be more cost-effective to have the data stored on a server or servers in the county or on a server off-site as a number of other law enforcement agencies do, as is the case with the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office.
Another question being explored is the length of time data not being used in pending open cases or court cases will be stored, Babb said.