New equipment increases officer safety, accountability

The MCG Police Department is implementing new safety equipment. Each officer in the department has been equipped with body cameras and will begin using Tasers with built-in cameras in the next month.

Both the body cameras and the Tasers serve a dual purpose, according to Chief of Police William McBride. They allow officers to carry out their duties with greater accountability and with greater regard for public safety.

The cameras allow the department to analyze interaction between officers and the public.

“Complaints from citizens about alleged officer conduct are typically a one-on-one situation, where a citizen might say that the officer was rude, or did this or that,” McBride said.

The digital footage from the cameras and Tasers will document the behavior of all parties involved. For example, MCG Police made 28 arrests during November and they issue hundreds of traffic tickets each year. Each interaction represents the possibility of misunderstanding, which the body cameras are intended to minimize. Officers must turn on the camera at any traffic stop or field interview and download those incidents to the department’s storage device at the end of each shift. They are unable to erase footage.

The cameras have already allowed McBride to adjust procedures, such as altering how officers approach vehicle occupants stopped for a traffic violation.

“We can use them as a training tool to help the officers be safe,” McBride said.

Officers will complete Taser training this month. The non-lethal electroshock weapon disrupts voluntary muscle control long enough to subdue and arrest an unruly suspect, minimizing safety risks to all parties involved, including bystanders. “You can’t use your muscles for the five seconds you’re being Tased,” McBride said. “It does hurt. But it doesn’t leave any permanent damage. Within 15 to 20 seconds, they’re back to normal.”

These models are also equipped with cameras that automatically turn on when an officer removes the Taser from its holster.

“In a really quick, adrenalized situation, an officer may not have the time to turn on the camera. So as soon as you pull it out of the holster, the camera goes on,” McBride said.

The exchange can then be dissected later for training purposes, or it can be used in court.

“I think, in general, my officers are very focused and they know what I want from them,” McBride said. The bureau recently updated vision and mission statements that officers carry on duty.

“Our new Vision Statement is simple and still very ambitious,” McBride said. “It states that our goal is ‘to set the standard for law enforcement excellence in the CSRA.’”

The department is a certified State of Georgia Law Enforcement Agency. Certification, which is voluntary,  gives qualifying agencies 119 operating policies and procedures that optimize professional standards. Agencies are inspected every three years to ensure compliance. Only about 20 percent of the chartered police agencies in Georgia have qualified for this certification.

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