Columbus police officers are now using body cameras on the job, and chief Tony Carleton is hopeful the new equipment will positively impact his department.
Carleton said the department has deployed 50 cameras within its patrol division. Officers wear them either on their breast pocket or their lapel.
“It’s been a learning curve for our officers, as far as getting used to using them and learning how to download video,” Carleton said. “The biggest challenge has been making sure we have the proper policy in place so that we deploy these cameras in a manner that’s going to assist the department and the citizens of Columbus.”
The department used $14,045 from a federal grant to purchase the cameras from TASER.
Procedurally, Carleton said officers will engage the cameras in any instance where there might be “enforcement action,” be it a traffic stop or arriving on the scene of a call. At the end of each shift, he said officers must place their cameras in a docking station that will automatically download the contents to an off-site server. Officers are only permitted to view their own videos from the server, he said.
Carleton said he hopes the cameras make case work and officers’ reports stronger, as well as increases court convictions.
“It takes a lot of question marks out for the judge and jury because it puts them on the scene with us,” he said. “It will make our reports more accurate, because if an officer goes out on three or four calls in a day, they can go back and review the video when they do their reports.”
CPD is leasing server space from TASER for $9,000 per year, Carleton said, and the department can store its video content indefinitely.
Columbus is only slightly behind the Starkville Police Department, which deployed its body camera program in 2014.
SPD Chief Frank Nichols said his department used 30 cameras in its patrol division, and he plans to order 31 more that will be compatible with the cameras already in patrol vehicles. Nichols said that once those come in, both the vehicle and body cameras will engage automatically when officers turn on their blue lights or when their patrol units reach a certain speed.
So far, Nichols said SPD’s cameras have been a “great investment.”
“I’d say it’s cut down our complaints (against officers) by about 90 percent,” he said.
West Point Police Chief Tim Brinkley said his officers do not use body cameras. He is exploring that option for the future.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.