With increased scrutiny of public service organizations and their community interactions, many leaders are looking to transparency solutions like equipping their field crews with body-worn cameras. Physical altercations, theft accusations, and malpractice concerns can quickly become management and public relation crises. Body-worn camera technology captures what the eye misses, what the ear did not hear, and what the mind has forgotten, providing an accurate record of every interaction. BJ Hudspeth, Chief for Cheatham County EMS, led the effort to research, pilot, and implement a body-worn camera (BWC) program within his agency after 27 years of experience working in emergency services.
Cheatham County EMS is a rural department outside of Nashville that serves about 50,000 citizens. Chief Hudspeth began piloting BWCs in March of 2018, initially purchasing inexpensive cameras online to use during the trial. After extensive research and development of a policy with legal department consultation, BWCs were deployed fully in May of 2018 and are worn by everyone including the Chief. Assaults, false claims, and complaints have nearly gone extinct since the program started.
At the time of implementation, Cheatham County was the only EMS service with a body-worn camera program. Chief Hudspeth is proud to be at the forefront of implementing this critical technology and the benefits he has witnessed in improved customer service. Many other services reach out inquiring about Cheatham County’s successful BWC program so we sat down with Chief Hudspeth and asked him to share his thoughts on the impact they have on the industry.
Public judgment can come quickly when incidents are reported ad memories deteriorate quickly. We asked Chief Hudspeth what impact body-worn cameras have on accountability. “Having EMS sourced video footage has exonerated crews who have been involved with what is, unfortunately, a common accusation, theft. In one case, a family reported a theft of personal items including a wallet and credit cards, but the body-worn camera footage of the entire call confirmed the patient was not transported with personal belongings and the crew was cleared of wrong-doing.
The high-stress nature of emergency calls and sometimes altered mental or raised emotional state of patients can lead to physical altercations. Chief Hudspeth says he has experienced improved safety when wearing body cameras. “Usually the presence of body-worn cameras keeps everyone on their best behavior. When it doesn’t, being able to review the body-worn camera footage that includes audio and video documentation of an incident helps to determine the aggressor and/or alleviate false claims against the crew.“
Chief Hudspeth shared that in addition to safer and transparent interactions overall, body-worn camera footage also provided insight into quality assurance and compliance programs. “Supervisors are able to review calls to validate proper doses are administered, procedures are followed, and personnel is delivering compassionate and quality customer care. This improves patient care and gives services the opportunity to ‘right the wrong’ with targeted training. Services are also able to confirm compliance with HIPAA, protocols, and standing orders.”
Finding room in slim public safety budgets can be challenging so we asked Chief Hudspeth what advice he has for financing the program. “Start simple and small. Scale your investment as you build buy-in from everyone on staff. Starting with a sample group helped us determine what features we wanted and needed and we were able to expand to a more robust system that truly met our needs. Seek grants or financing programs from whatever vendor you decide to go with.”