The push for law enforcement officers to wear body cameras has gained steam since the shooting death of an unarmed teenager by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, earlier this month, and agencies in Aiken and around the CSRA are exploring the devices.
The Aiken Department of Public Safety is currently testing several different models of body cameras that record activity from an officer’s perspective when activated.
The cameras, which run on rechargeable batteries, record segments of video and audio and store the segments until they can be uploaded to a computer.
“The technology is available. We definitely see the benefits in using them,” said Lt. Jake Mahoney.
Aiken Public Safety has had video cameras inside its patrol cars for more than 20 years, though those cameras weren’t widely available or used in their advent.
“As times have changed, law enforcement, in general, has discovered the value for the officers having those cameras,” Mahoney said. “It helps the officers recall what happened during critical incidents. It also helps provide a historical record.”
The cameras also can be used in the investigation of complaints residents make about officers.
“We can refer to that video we use to either validate the citizen complaint or exonerate the officer,” Mahoney said.
Aiken Public Safety began looking into purchasing body cameras about a year ago, and one of the agency’s goals for the current fiscal year is to continue to “seek and utilize current technology to include body cameras, automated license plate readers and surveillance cameras.”
The Columbia Police Department is currently testing several types of body cameras, while a handful of deputies with the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department traffic unit already use the cameras.
Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree recently ordered 15 cameras to be used by the agency’s motorcycle patrol.
The cameras vary in size, capability, memory size and price. Some are the size of a pack of gum or a cellphone, while others look like an ink pen. They can range in price from $100 to $2,000 per device.
The particular model Aiken Public Safety is considering costs about $800, according to Mahoney, who said Public Safety is looking to outfit about 60 patrol officers with the devices.
“When we go to body cameras, there’s a good chance that will be the most expensive piece of equipment that the officers will carry,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office said the agency doesn’t use body cameras and has no plans to purchase them.
Teddy Kulmala covers crime and courts for Aiken Standard.