Atlanta City Council member Kwanza Hall introduced the authorizing legislation for the city to spend $5.6 million on body cameras for the Atlanta Police Department. “The time is now. Our vote sends a strong message that we want our officers to be equipped with every tool they need to ensure their safety and that we are committed to transparency for our citizens in their interactions with law enforcement.” EMILY JENKINS/ EJENKINS@AJC.COM

Atlanta Police latest to get body cameras

In a world where seemingly every police encounter ends up on social media, after sometimes tragic results, the Atlanta Police Department is trying to be more transparent in how it deals with citizens.

This week, the Atlanta City Council voted 12-1 to spend $5.6 million to equip the police department with 1,200 body cameras. The cameras and video storage equipment will be purchased from Arizona-based TASER International, which currently equips 34 major cities.

The announcement comes a week after Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed pledged to spend $1.9 million on enhanced bulletproof vests and helmets for the police department. The helmets and vests, coupled with the cameras, strengthen APD’s position not only against the uptick of violent weapons on the streets, but also the increased attention paid to how police officers interact with citizens, and according to the mayor, “equip our officers with the latest in crime fighting technology.”

“The deployment of body cameras in our police department has been a key recommendation from many of our city’s community leaders and stakeholders,” Reed said Tuesday. “It will be a significant component of community policing and will strengthen trust among our officers and the communities they serve by providing transparency to officer interactions.”

Across the country, over the last few years, recordings of police encounters – whether taken by citizens, or victims, or with police body cameras – has played a huge role in documenting the current relationship between police and the people they are supposed to serve and protect.

The impetus came two years ago when a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. fatally shot an unarmed black teenager, setting off riots and protests across the country. Since then, police departments have been ordering body cameras to not only protect the public, but also protect themselves.

“This is an absolute step in the right direction,” said Atlanta City Councilmember Kwanza Hall, who introduced the legislation to buy the cameras. “The time is now. Our vote sends a strong message that we want our officers to be equipped with every tool they need to ensure their safety and that we are committed to transparency for our citizens in their interactions with law enforcement.”

But it has not been foolproof. This summer, in the first of several high profile cases that sparked nationwide protests, Alton Sterling was shot and killed by police officers outside of a neighborhood store in Baton Rouge.

While civilians filmed the shooting from several angles, the cameras worn by the two officers involved became dislodged and didn’t record the encounter.

Which is part of the reason why Asia Parks, a local activist with Riseup Georgia, stopped short of “patting the city on the back for taking one step in the direction they should’ve headed in years ago.”

Earlier this month, the Cobb County Board of Commissioners voted to buy 100 more body cameras to meet the Cobb County Police Department’s goal of outfitting all 500 uniform officers.

The Atlanta Police Department had been on a pilot program, where a select number of officers were wearing body cameras.

As far back as July of 2015, efforts to get body cameras in the APD had been stalled after a local vendor argued that the bidding process was not open.

The city halted the process temporarily, to re-evaluate the bids.

“With the proper protocols, training and levels of transparency, we can make this a win, win, win,” Hall said. “And it also gives our officers the grounds to protect their integrity. I am thankful that the ball is rolling.”

A spokesman for the Atlanta Police Department would not comment on the timeline on when the equipment will be in hand and the training schedule.

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