By MYRA THRIFT, Staff Writer
During recent criminal trials held at the Ware County Courthouse, one of the most impressive items of evidence presented was video from Waycross Police officers’ body cameras, evidence that could not be disputed in its presentation.
Body cams have become a part of the officers’ standard uniform and gear that they wear every day along with badge, gun, night stick and other necessities. Whether presented by the defense or prosecution, the videos offer proof of what had or had not occurred during an alleged incident.
Clear body cam footage can almost be like taking the jury to the location of the incident, having them ride along with the officer en route to a crime scene or hear immediate communications between lawmen and witnesses at the scene.
Body cameras were provided a few years ago and the service, according to Waycross officers, is “doing what it’s supposed to do.”
The camera’s digital display shows the time and the badge number of the officer wearing it.
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” said Waycross PD Officer Charles Brown. “This catches a lot of stuff. It may not be able to see everything but it catches a lot of what’s happening.”
The Waycross Police Department began using body cams in 2015 and already they have paid off. The videos have been used recently in court to show activity at crime scenes in the city including murder cases.
Every patrol officer that is assigned to the street wears a camera.
“If you interact with the city officers, you are on camera,” said Brown.
And they have a K-9 that also comes along. Officer Duane Howell, and his K-9 Officer “Grim” are always on call. (Grim wears no camera.)
“If you receive a complaint that is not true, a moderate officer will give the truth and these videos can exonerate him. Even citizens can view them if they feel the need,” said Howell.
The camera increases the security of the officer. It may just be someone who wants to talk to an officer. It has proved beneficial to both ends on occasion.
“Anytime we get a call for service, serving a warrant, answer a complaint, we activate our body camera,” said Brown.
“It’s good to go ahead and keep when you can have evidence. We used to have to call for a camera but not now. We can also take still shots with these cameras,” said Brown.
“In terms of saving my life, I don’t know that it has, but it has helped solve many cases with its use,” said Brown. “We can go back a month and have the video that might lead to an arrest.”
Officer Howell is a former U.S. Marine. He was originally from Colorado, then Texas, then worked with the Department of Defense at Kings Bay (Camden), then worked at D. Ray James in Charlton County and finally made his way to the Waycross Police Department.
His K-9 “Grim,” is with him at all times. and Howell is on call perpetually.
“Every day at the end of the shift, we download our video into a secure server,” said Howell. “We can review and learn from them and they are kept in our database so that they can be viewed at anytime. In a traffic situation, if we have an officer complaint, those videos are most accurate.”
Body cams are apparently here to stay — at least until something better comes along.
By MYRA THRIFT, Staff Writer