Body-worn cameras have been in existence since 1997, but they didn’t find law enforcement acceptance until 2008 with a wide adoption starting in 2014. Today, many law enforcement agencies have added body-worn cameras as standard equipment for their officers. Implementing body-worn cameras requires numerous policy and procedural decisions. However, many agencies struggle with developing policies and procedures that address public access to body-worn camera footage, especially as it relates to officer use-of-force incidents.
While agencies try to balance the need for camera footage as evidence and allow public access to the footage for the purpose of transparency, the use of smartphones by citizens to video tape officers in action has contributed to the challenges of implementation of cameras. While state and local body-worn camera laws, policies, and procedures have evolved over the past five years, the recent use-of-force events that erupted across the country have highlighted the need for national standards, guidelines and uniformity of body-worn camera protocols that enable law enforcement agencies to implement programs that also complies with local and state policies and procedures.
Studies conducted in the United Kingdom and United States indicate that body-worn cameras result in positive interactions between officers and citizens, reducing citizen complaints and crime. They can also reveal excessive use-of-force altercations between officers and citizens. There is a dichotomy between how officers are trained to handle explosive and life-threatening situations and how the public may view the officers’ handling of these situations. On one hand, the body-worn camera footage aids in capturing the normal day-to-day activity officers are performing, and on the other hand it can expose the excessive force used by some officers in certain situations. Added to the body-worn camera footage is video footage from citizens that can be broadcast all over the news; even though it almost never captures what happened throughout the duration of the incident. All of these factors are adding to the difficulty of officers performing their jobs and for citizens to trust police.
When considering all of the factors dealing with body-worn cameras, it is clear that the positive impact far outweighs any negative impacts. This fact, coupled with today’s public perception of police violence and the turbulent environment that the public is experiencing, the need for officers to have access to body-worn cameras is becoming as essential as any other equipment officers require to properly do their job.
There are a multitude of factors to consider when evaluating body-worn cameras as a program for an agency, including technology, personnel, policies and procedures. While technology certainly plays a big role in the decision-making process, updating policies and procedures along with allocating the necessary resources to manage the body-camera footage are essential for a successful implementation. It is also essential that the IT department gets involved in the technology procurement process because of the significant impact the program is likely to have not only on the data center but on the network.
From a technology perspective, body-worn cameras are relatively simple, but the video storage and management of video footage is complex and expensive. The sheer volume of video data footage generated is exponential to the number of body-worn cameras being deployed and how often they are activated during a shift.
When considering procuring a body-worn camera solution these are some of the factors to consider:
- Quality of the camera for both day and night modes
- Size, waterproof and rugged qualities of the camera case
- Adaptability of the camera case to be positioned on different parts of the body for optimum video capture
- Associate video footage with officer
- Associate video footage with CAD incident
- Automatically turn camera on and off based on assignment to, and completion of an incident
- Ability to turn camera on or off manually
- Ability to log all camera actions including when manually turned on or off
- Video storage requirements and location of the video storage as either:
- In-house by adding servers and storage to current data center
- Cloud-based by contracting with the body-worn camera vendor
- Cloud-based by contracting with a Public Safety grade data center
- Ease of managing video footage including:
- Associating video with incident
- Associating video with officer
- Extracting video for public consumption
- Extracting video for internal investigation
- Keeping video as evidence
- Purging video based on multiple criteria including date, evidentiary needs, public relevance and policies
As part of the body-worn camera project, agencies need to develop a training curriculum for officers in the field and video administrators. Both the video capture and video management need to be clearly defined in the new policies and procedures. In some cases, a separate department may be the best approach to administer and manage all aspects of the video capture, video association with incidents, video evidence, internal and public release of video footage and storage with purge rules of video footage. A quality assurance process needs to be developed to ensure that the video capture and video release policies and procedures are being adhered to. Audits should be performed of the video capture and video release process and findings from the audits should be used to make any necessary adjustments.
Body-worn camera policies and procedures need to reflect local, state and federal privacy laws in order to be effective and enforceable. Winbourne has worked with multiple agencies to develop body-worn camera workflow, processes and performance standards that were incorporated into agency policies and procedures to meet local, state and federal guidelines.
Winbourne Consulting understands the complex environment faced by our public safety partners in responding to the pandemic, civil unrest, and increasing demands for police reform.
All law enforcement agencies are faced with balancing the need to provide safety and security to citizens, while working within the current climate to meet the expectations of the communities they serve.For over 20 years Winbourne has successfully helped our customers navigate similar challenges by providing the following strategic and tactical services:
Technology Assessment-Ensuring departments are fully leveraging technology systems to achieve strategic objectives of increasing transparency and accountability.
Business Intelligence-Assisting departments in utilizing data for both administrative and operational objectives, including performance metrics and quality assurance.
Documentation Review-Reviewing policy, procedures, and training curriculum to ensure everything is aligned to meet department objectives.
Early Intervention Systems (EIS)-Helping departments maintain credibility with actionable information and departmental acceptance.
For additional information, contact Winbourne Consulting at firstname.lastname@example.org.