JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — In 2019, the Johns Creek Police Department joined droves of law enforcement agencies nationwide by implementing body-worn cameras to officer uniforms and signing a five-year contract with Axon Enterprises.
The original $1.5 million contract is entering its third year, however, at the Aug. 30 City Council meeting, officials unanimously approved a new 10-year contract with Axon to incorporate the company’s latest technology updates.
Transitioning to the new contract comes with a $331,400 price tag which has been accounted for in the equipment accrual fund of the fiscal year 2022 budget.
Amid smaller technology updates which streamline the Axon software, one of the biggest improvements, Police Chief Mark Mitchell said, are new features which will allow supervising officers to remotely access live feeds from officers’ cameras.
“It affords us the ability to look at critical situations going on live and allows our supervisors to be able to assist and see exactly what’s going on so they can give guidance,” Mitchell said.
The upgrades also include improvements to license plate reader recognition software which Mitchell said will help officers locate stolen vehicles and wanted persons moving through the city.
Since becoming a part of their uniforms three years ago, the police department has touted the body-worn cameras’ usefulness.
In the agenda report presented to the City Council, Mitchell said the cameras, “have been an effective means to enhance the safety of, and improve the interactions between, officers and the public while providing an audio and visual record of interactions that capture evidence in the event of a crime, police-citizen interaction, or use-of-force incident.”
Johns Creek Police Lt. Jon D. Moses said the department does not maintain internal data to track the effectiveness of the technology, but says he “absolutely,” believes it to be beneficial.
Studies that point to body-worn-camera effectiveness, however, often come with a caveat: it greatly depends on how the cameras are used rather than just their adoption.
Body-worn cameras become useless if officers are not required to turn them on. In Johns Creek, officers are required to have their cameras on and recording whenever they exit the vehicle on a service call or investigation, Mitchell said.
Officers are also allowed to view the footage collected before filing incident reports, Mitchell said.
Additionally, after incidents are adjudicated, Mitchell said, the footage becomes accessible to the public through the Georgia Open Records Act.
Although Mitchell joined the department in June, he said he had prior experience with companies similar to Axon during his time as chief of the Canton Police Department.
Police body-worn cameras became widespread seven years ago, following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri. Policy makers sought solutions to issues in policing with many pinning their hopes on body-worn cameras.
At the time, it was thought that the increased oversight provided by video records of police-civilian interactions would help decrease use of force and citizen complaints. But since their implementation in departments across the country, studies show mixed results.
A 2020 study by George Mason University’s Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy found that body-worn cameras have not had a statistically significant impact on most measures of officer and citizen behavior or on overall citizen view of police.
Other studies of body-worn cameras have proven them to be an effective tool for evidence gathering.
Mitchell and Moses are quick to say that the evidence collected by the cameras only make up one piece of the puzzle, but still, Mitchell calls the technology a “win-win” for the department.