KTUL Investigates: Police body cameras in Green Country
It played out like a TV show or a movie. One man gripping a hammer and police frantically yelling "drop it!"
It isn’t fiction but a real life police shooting captured in graphic detail on a body camera.
“My mind was racing like I was on the scene. You could feel the situation getting more tense. There was also a calming nature because we have those body cameras and it captured so much on that scene,” said Tahlequah Police Chief Nate King.
It started with a call: A Tahlequah man violently out of control at his own home. The fatal showdown happened in his garage with no outside witnesses and no one to say the officers acted appropriately, except for the camera.
King said his men were cleared of any wrong doing thanks to the video.
“I think anytime you can provide video evidence of an incident, you’re a lot safer,” said King.
King said the cameras help protect officers like Justin Girdner when they are just pulling people over, doing standard police work.
“With the most recent officer-involved shooting we had, I think it helped clear up a lot of the questions people had,” said Girdner.
The body camera is worn right in the center of Girdner’s chest. He readily admits many officers on the force were resistant at first.
“People don’t like change, especially in law enforcement,” said Girdner.
Change is also happening at the Tulsa Police Department. Officer Darrell Ross is one of 40 officers field testing body cameras, and the timing couldn’t be more important.
“When I look at police shootings, I’m always thinking, how did we get there?” said Ross.
Ross said there is some concern about the cameras and whether or not they could be used to unfairly discredit police.
“I’m being protected, my actions are being recorded, his actions are being recorded,” said Ross. “I don’t mind that at all.”
In Tahlequah, the police department has been using cameras for about two years. King said they were one of the first departments in the state to do so.
“There’s no more he said-she said because it provides a point of view,” said King.
It’s a point of view that’s saved his officers not once, but twice. The shooting last August isn’t the first time they’ve relied on body cameras. In June of 2015, one of King's officers shot and killed a man. The officer was cleared a few months later.
“I’ve received that call twice now, the first chief in about 50 years to receive that call,” said King.
King said he’ll back his officers up, but now he has a body camera to back him up too.
“Not many professions you have to worry about a split second decision you’re making in good faith sending you to prison,” said King.