Sat | Jul 4, 2020

As Gov’t fumbles with body cams, a security company invests in hundreds

Published:Tuesday | June 2, 2020 | 12:29 AMDanae Hyman/Staff Reporter
John P. Azar, managing director of KingAlarm, says his investment in more than 500 body cameras has paid off.
John P. Azar, managing director of KingAlarm, says his investment in more than 500 body cameras has paid off.

WHILE THE Jamaican police force and the army have had a piecemeal and stop-start engagement of body cameras over the years, private security companies have gradually incorporated the video-surveillance equipment as a crucial backstop in monitoring operations.

The issue re-emerged after the Independent Commission of Investigations revealed that the absence of body cameras posed a challenge to its probe into the killing of Susan Bogle, a 43-year-old disabled woman who was allegedly shot by a soldier in a running gun battle with criminals in August Town.

The fatal shooting has become a national flashpoint, resurrecting sentiments of discontentment and outrage about extra-judicial killings.

John P. Azar, managing director of KingAlarm, said that the integration of body cameras in its daily operations has produced exceptional results.

Protect personnel

Azar said that KingAlarm got pushback initially from operations personnel who were resistant to oversight, but those reservations have largely evaporated, he said, when guards recognised that the videos protected them as well against false allegations.

“What we wanted to achieve, we have achieved that and even more,” Azar told The Gleaner.

“We find the devices to be rugged and durable ... . Importantly, from all the main manufacturers, how we use them is exactly how they are designed to be used. They are not designed to be treated with kid gloves and put up on a shelf; they are designed to be worn and go through an average tour of duty,” Azar said.

KingAlarm has upwards of 500 body cameras in the field, and protocol dictates that security officers turn on their cameras when they arrive on location when responding to an alarm.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, during a Jamaica House press conference on Sunday, said that the Government was committed to acquiring body cameras for the security forces, but cautioned that COVID-19 contingencies had placed the administration in a fiscal bind. National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang revealed, in a Gleaner interview, that the Government intended to acquire 1,200 body cameras.

Azar said that body cams range from US$400-US$500 in cost but highlighted that significant investments must be made in the back-end storage of data.

“I think it is expensive, but from my perspective, it certainly is one of the best investments that I’ve made,” the managing director said, emphasising that it influenced personnel to be “on their best behaviour”.

“When you’re out in the field as an operational team, not everything is black and white, and there are certain judgement calls. ... It aids in the whole transparency and it certainly aids us in investigating any and all incidents involving our personnel,” Azar said.