(SAVANNAH) Hundreds of body camera units are headed to the Hostess City thanks to a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department is one of three law enforcement agencies in Georgia, with more than 25 officers, to receive the monies under the Body-Warn Camera Policy and Implementation Program. SCMPD learned of the award Tuesday night. That grant makes nearly $95,000 dollars available to purchase body cameras for officers. Captain David Gay, Commander of Planning and Technology, says the award means virtually every officer will be equipped with one. “The grant will allow us to get an additional, a little over 200 body cameras, 200 to 220 additional body cameras. It will allow us to outfit, um, basically everyone from the rank of sergeant and below and that includes investigators.” said Gay.
The new cameras will be added to 360 that are already in use in Savannah. Captain Gay says the use of body cams not only adds to the transparency of police work, but it also enhances it. ” While the public, when they think of body cam, they think of trust and legitimacy, transparency on the part of police departments, for us, the additional value that a lot of times is overlooked by the public is the additional evidence being collected.” Gay said.
But Gay adds that the additional cameras brings a problem into focus. The storage of the video data can become an issue because some policy questions have no uniformity, like how long the video is kept on record and when do officers hit the record button? ” What has happened is the law has not caught up with the technology and so again, you’re gonna see from agency to agency, when do you turn the video on? At what point do you, what kind of calls? because there’s a trade off in that if you require and officer to turn that video on, on a regular basis, that’s a lot more video you have to store now, you’ve got to categorize, you’ve got to store now…and with storage comes cost.” said Gay
Gay says the grant does allow for some of the funds to help with those storage issues. It is a matching grant, so the city will have to come up with equal funding to make the body cam purchase. The units that SCMPD plan to buy are the body camera’s that attach to officers heads, rather than their actual bodies. “Because when the officer turns their head, the camera turns with it. If the cameras stationary on the body , you don’t necessarily get that perspective.” Gay said. He says the additional cameras should be purchased and deployed in the field by the first quarter of 2017. Nationally, since 2015, there have been 492 applications submitted across 47 states for grants under the Body-Worn Camera Policy and Implementation Program; 179 were awarded, including 106 in 2016 and 73 in 2015. Applicants requested over $85 million in federal funds and sought the purchase of some 86,000 cameras. $41 million has been awarded. In Georgia, Savannah will receive $94,532. Fulton County has $108,375 earmarked for body cams, and Woodstock was awarded $60,000.