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When this officer went down, his body camera system sent help

One officer’s story of distress and assistance illustrates why BodyWorn is more than a body camera – it’s a lifesaver

Sponsored by BodyWorn by Utility

By Laura Neitzel, Police1 BrandFocus staff

When an officer from St. Louis County PD went down, his BodyWorn camera sent an alert to dispatch and nearby officers.
When an officer from St. Louis County PD went down, his BodyWorn camera sent an alert to dispatch and nearby officers. (image/BodyWorn by Utility)

“Officer down.”

Those two words are enough to strike fear in your heart or cause a sinking feeling in your gut.

In the last few hours of the last shift before he was scheduled to take paternity leave, Officer A. Yates of the St. Louis County Police Department and another officer were called to the scene of an attempted suicide.

They located the person experiencing a mental crisis and tried to convince the man to let the ambulance take him to the hospital for care.

“He stood up like he was going to start walking toward the ambulance, and then he just took off running – beelined it as fast as he could,” said Yates, “and then I took off running right after him, sprinting.”

After a foot pursuit of 50 to 100 yards – with Yates in full gear and an N95 mask for COVID protection – the man gave up the chase and got into the ambulance. But the drama didn’t end there.

While the other officer followed the ambulance to the hospital, Yates stayed to get additional information from the reporting party. After several minutes, Yates was still struggling to catch his breath. He told the reporting party he was going to his vehicle to take his mask off for a breath of fresh air and get a drink of water.

Still feeling lightheaded, dizzy and nauseated, Yates lowered his head to help the blood flow – and then he lost consciousness.

As he lay unconscious on the ground just outside his vehicle, the reporting party grabbed for the radio on his shoulder – an unusual occurrence.

Dispatcher A. Parker was on the other end of the radio. She heard a female voice saying, “I have an officer down.” Parker instantly realized that it was an unfamiliar voice and not law enforcement. The woman, speaking from Yates’ radio, explained that the officer had had a seizure. As Parker tried to match the sub-unit number on the radio to identify which officer was down, Parker’s supervisor was walking over to tell her about an alert that was coming in from Yates’ BodyWorn camera.

Getting the word out fast

When an officer wearing a BodyWorn camera goes prone in the field, the camera’s BodyWorn Down feature automatically starts recording and sends a “call for help” alert through the AVaiLWeb cloud directly to the command center. The “officer down” message gets transmitted to dispatchers, command staff, nearby officers and designated others.

When Officer Yates went prone, Officer J. O’Neill heard “BodyWorn Down A. Yates” coming across the tablet in his car and from his own BodyWorn camera.

“There was a little bit of confusion at first,” said O’Neill. “I knew there was something bad going on, but you're caught trying to figure out exactly what in the heck is going on, and then you realize this is legit: ‘We have an officer down, I know who it is, and I know exactly where he is. I need to get there.’”

Along with his BodyWorn camera, O’Neill also had AVaiLWeb pulled up on the laptop in his vehicle. The system showed a flashing icon indicating where the down officer was, as well as where all the other St. Louis County officers were at that moment.

Yates’ supervisor, Lt. T. Van Buren, was at the station when the radio transmission from the citizen came in.

“Whenever civilians are talking on a police officer's radio, we know that there's something really wrong,” said Van Buren. “but I've talked to officers that were in route, and they said that they received the BodyWorn Down alert about the same time as her coming onto the radio.”

Not only was the alert important, the locator on Officer Yates’ BodyWorn camera helped them pinpoint his exact location within the sprawling apartment complex.

“Our normal CAD system tells us what address he’s supposed to be at, but AVaiLWeb gave the exact location so they didn’t have to drive up and down to search for him,” said Van Buren. “He was just finishing up, so he didn’t have his overhead lights on. It made it easier for us to find him in the dark because we knew exactly where to go.”

When O’Neill arrived on the scene two minutes later, there were also St. Louis municipal officers on the scene. Yates was conscious but dazed.

Capturing important evidence

Many elements came together that night: a good citizen helping an officer in distress, a cool-headed dispatcher, fellow police officers who raced to the scene and agency leaders that had the foresight just months before to purchase the BodyWorn Ecosystem, which includes BodyWorn cameras and RocketIoT in-car video systems, for all the patrol officers and specialized units.

News of the “officer down” alert predictably made the rounds at roll call and among other officers in the department. While Yates’ experience fortunately has a happy ending, it made them realize the value of the BodyWorn camera system had the scenario been more tragic.

“I was discussing with some of the other officers that another important thing beyond the alerting is that when the alert went off, the camera kicked on and started recording,” said O’Neill. “We were discussing from an evidentiary standpoint how valuable that is in the event the worst does happen and you have some form of criminal act involving the incapacitation or even the death of an officer.”

Another benefit of the BodyWorn camera and AVaiLWeb platform is that it immediately uploads the video to CJIS-compliant cloud storage, says Van Buren. If an officer is assaulted or worse, for instance, and the suspects try take the body camera off the officer because they don't want to be recorded, it's too late – it's already up in the cloud so they can't destroy the evidence.

“It struck me that this would be great for an investigation of an officer that was unfortunately injured in the line of duty and couldn't give information to us,” said Van Buren. “We could retrieve that information immediately from the scene.”

Real-time alerting enables a happy ending

Officer Yates was taken to the hospital and able to return safely home to his family that night, just two days before his wife gave birth to their second child. He has since returned to duty, grateful for the resident who came to his aid and the BodyWorn camera system that automatically started recording and summoned the alert.

“It's definitely a blessing, because had I been in the middle of the woods or somewhere like that where it was really hard to get a better location, I know the camera’s GPS locator can really pinpoint wherever I am,” said Yates. “The ability to capture and hear what's going on is an amazing feature, but just to be able to have that pinpoint accuracy and be able to tune in live and hear what's going on can be life-changing.”

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