Integrating and Leveraging BWC Technology: Hogansville, Georgia, Police Department
The Hogansville, Georgia, Police Department first implemented BWCs in mid-2008 when former Chief of Police Moses Ector purchased two BWCs at an International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Conference for a trial run. When Hogansville first deployed the BWCs, the various shifts shared them. The BWCs could not remain functional, however, because of their charging requirements, so they were decommissioned and shelved for a few months. Chief Ector reissued one BWC to Sergeant Jeff Sheppard full time to test the effectiveness of the BWC. At the end of the test period, they found that the BWC was an invaluable tool not only in documenting the actions of officers and citizens, but also in evidence gathering, interviews, and both criminal and civil court proceedings.
The department ordered BWCs for all officers and built an in-house server to store video footage. Hogansville demonstrated the effectiveness of the BWC video to prosecutors in the municipal, state, and superior courts. Prosecutors quickly became accustomed to receiving BWC footage with their case files. Over the 10 years that Hogansville has deployed BWCs, the prosecutors have increasingly relied on the footage and now require BWC footage with each case file or a statement in the file by the prosecuting officer explaining the absence of BWC video. It has become one of the first items that defense attorneys request in court cases as well.
Hogansville has seen astounding differences since its initial BWC deployment. In the beginning, officers were resistant to the BWCs, which they viewed as a management tool for “keeping an eye” on patrol officers. As the officers began to use the footage for scene recollection, suspect identification, and evidence in traffic court to support citations and arrests, they began to understand that BWCs are useful. BWCs are deployed for the benefit of the officers and for the community in the department's Community Focus initiative. In analyzing footage over the years, Hogansville has seen a decrease in negative officer-citizen interactions. The officers are aware that they are on camera and have become comfortable interacting with the community. As the community began to see the outcomes of the BWC video footage in court proceedings and in press releases by the Chief of Police, they too began to act more cordial. The footage from BWCs has substantially reduced court time. BWC footage has resulted in plea bargains in several instances when officers would likely have been requested to testify. Now officers do not want to patrol without BWCs. Officers use BWCs for memorializing field interviews, scene diagramming, surveillance, and many other applications. Hogansville also uses the videos for in-house training and scenario reconstruction.
The department noted that implementing BWCs requires making three key practical decisions: what camera to use, how to store the video, and what charging system to use (docking station or individual chargers). Hogansville chose its cameras because of their in-house storage capability and the ability to issue individual chargers with each camera. The officer carries his or her camera home as issued equipment and is responsible for maintaining a proper charge. Hogansville utilizes a central server at the department for video download, and officers have unique passwords that allow them to download and access their videos. Hogansville recommends departments with multiple precincts or stations should consider this option when choosing a storage system. The cloud system may be best for some, and multiple in-house storage stations for others.
Hogansville learned that simplicity of operation is important. Officers learn through muscle memory to activate and deactivate the BWCs. The BWCs selected by Hogansville have a simple slide bar for activation. The department felt that the simple motion would cut down on reaction time when activating under stress. The one aspect forgotten by many agencies when implementing a BWC program is maintenance—not of the electronics, but of the external hardware such as clips, on/off switches, screen lenses, housings, and charging cords. Hogansville learned the hard way over time to stock spare parts for officers. After losing an entire BWC, Hogansville attached retention lanyards to them. Officers can lose cameras in struggles, foot chases, house searches, and rescues, and sometimes just in getting out of their vehicle. The lanyards have saved thousands of dollars in potential losses.
In closing, BWCs are a tool. How each agency uses the tool will determine how valuable it is to them. If it is used the right way, it will become one of the most valuable tools not only in your agency’s tool box, but also in your prosecutor’s tool box—and, in some instances, in the tool box of the attorney defending you and your department against a false allegation.
This project was supported by Grant No. 2015-DE-BX-K002 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the SMART Office. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.