Local Police Officers Will Soon Be Wearing Bodycams

By Eleanor Barrineau, VHCA Board and Safety Committee Chair

By the end of January, police officers in Zone 6 of the Atlanta Police Department (APD), which includes Virginia-Highland, will be using body cameras on each shift.  As officers report for duty, they will pick up fully-charged camera units and attach them to the front of their shirts. 

As part of the bodycam rollout, Zone 6 held a public meeting on January 4th to demonstrate the new units and answer questions.  I was interested to hear that the camera does not automatically record the entire on-duty shift.  Rather, the officer needs to tap the large “event button” on the front of the camera in order to begin the audio-video recording.  (However, a 30-second video-only “buffering period” provides recording of the 30 seconds prior to the event button being pushed.)  Once started, recording continues until the officer stops it, and visual (flashing LED light) and audio/vibrating cues remind the officer of the recording status.  Battery life is sufficient to cover more than an entire shift.

Safety is paramount, so activation should not come at risk to officer or citizen safety.  Training and mentoring will take place to ensure that officers become familiar with the units and that activation becomes part of “muscle memory” in appropriate situations. 

Upon return to the Zone 6 precinct after a shift, the unit is docked and automatic uploading of the video will occur.  A helpful feature of the APD units is the automated nature of the system’s “back end,” preventing officers from taking time away from patrolling to upload and manage the videos.  The units also provide easy “bookmarking” of key moments on recordings, as well as streamlined categorization of recordings.

Recordings will be retained according to a schedule for the type of event—for example, a traffic stop recording is retained for 180 days whereas a homicide recording is kept indefinitely.  The automatic retention period can be lengthened by an appropriate official if circumstances warrant.

The system has the ability to obscure faces of victims and undercover officers when needed—for example, when videos are released after a Freedom of Information Act request.

APD anticipates that the cameras will help protect both members of the public and its officers, and assist in its investigations.

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