Three-quarters of the Sandy Springs Police Department’s officers – 130 of 170 – are outfitted with body cameras, but Deputy Chief Keith Zgonc wants all of them to have them.
“Because of the incidents that happened this summer and the calls for transparency, we felt it was important or every officer to be equipped with a body camera,” he said, referring to instances where Black individuals died at the hands of mostly white police officers and the violence that erupted from peaceful protests in response to those deaths.
Zgonc said even the department’s captains, deputy chiefs and chief go out on patrol “from time to time.”
So, at its Dec. 1 meeting, which was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sandy Springs City Council voted 6-0 to approve a new five-year, $2.26 million contract with Axon Enterprise, the Scottsdale, Arizona-based company providing the department with its body cameras, to add 40 more. The pact also includes providing all officers with Taser 7s, the latest Taser model, and related accessories and services.
According to a news release, the city has partnered with Axon since 2008, when it bought Tasers from the company. In 2017, Axon was chosen to equip the department with 92 body cameras, and the contract was amended last year to add 38 body cams and 135 in-car fleet cameras. The new Tasers were added because of concerns over ineffective Taser deployments with the existing models officers had.
With the new contract, all of the officers’ body cameras will activate the moment the Tasers are turned on, but Zgonc said the department has taken even more precautions with the cameras.
“The camera activation with the Taser coming on is a safeguard, but what we train our officers on is to turn the camera on even before they get out of their car,” no matter what the situation is, he said. “One of the other features we have is when they turn the (car’s) blue lights on, the (body) camera comes on.”
District 3 Councilman Chris Burnett asked Zgonc if the body cameras could also be activated when an officer pulls his gun from his holster.
“We’re looking into that,” the deputy chief said.
Burnett added he hopes if that option became available to the police in the future, it would not have to buy all new equipment to get the upgrade.
Councilmen Andy Bauman (District 6) and John Paulson (District 1) asked how often the city’s officers use their Tasers.
“Probably once or twice a month. We also occasionally pull it and don’t have to use it,” Zgonc said.
Under the contract’s terms, the city will be charged $125,000, $546,290.19, $569.690.19, $498,182.14 and $524,022.14 in Years 1 through 5, respectively.
Zgonc said the department’s previous contract averaged out to $336,000 a year; the new contract raises the annual average cost to $452,000. However, the new pact is a good deal for the city and includes some upgrades each year, he added.
“It’s below the state contract and you’re getting a trade-in (value) of $100,000,” City Attorney Dan Lee said.