Local police departments bring in body cams - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Local police departments bring in body cams

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CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) -

It's a hot topic in the wake of the Ferguson, MO shooting; should police officers wear cameras to record their interactions with citizens?

More than 150,000 people have signed an online petition asking President Obama to require all police to wear the cameras. Federal mandate or not, they may already be on the way to Savannah.

Some Savannah-Chatham Metro officers are already wearing these cameras, even though they aren't required. For years officers have spent their own money to buy wearable cameras with the idea that it gives them a record and a way to defend themselves against frivolous complaints and to provide a record if they ever use deadly force.

Metro Training Director Gary Taylor is making a push to outfit all officers with the cameras. He's set to present his plans to city council next week.

"First and foremost, it gives us transparency," said Taylor. "It helps us police ourselves better."

Police say the shirt cams are way to collect evidence, to capture interactions with citizens and review them for training, and to help earn the public's trust.  

"We tell our officers all the time, the most important and the best tool they possess is the ability to communicate," said Taylor. "But sometimes with officers, you know, with the manner in which they police, and with situations they deal with, we forget that."

Several smaller departments already have shirt-worn cameras. Officers in Pooler have worn them for three years.

Rincon Police rolled out department-wide shirt cameras at the beginning of this year.

"It holds us accountable," said Rincon Police Sgt. Jose Ramirez. "You're going to have the audio. You're going to have the video. You're going to have their actions."

Some Garden City officers wear the cameras and the department has gotten a grant to fit more.

"There's not a more important tool that a police department can provide for their officers," Lyons said.

Some Effingham County deputies have worn shirt cams for five years. 

Tybee Island police just got the cameras.

The idea is, if video holds officers accountable, the public will trust them. Plus, the video can be used as training tool.

But do the videos invade citizens' privacy? The Supreme Court says no.

"There's no expectation of privacy when we come in contact with a citizen," said Ramirez.

Lyons asks what is more important, privacy or safety?

"If we're there on a domestic violence call, privacy is not our concern," Lyons said. "We're there to do our job."

There's no timeline for Metro Police to get the shirt cameras.

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