The Use of Body Worn Cameras in Law Enforcement
Public perception of law enforcement as a whole has changed across the country. With recent events such as the Michael Brown shooting, police practices are now the topic of national debate. The implementation of body worn camera programs is at the forefront of those debates. Police administrators are looking for solutions to regain the public trust and ease tension in their communities. The use of body worn cameras will assist in reaching these goals. Research shows that the use of body cameras enhances transparencyand officer accountability, which reduces citizen complaints and officer use offorce. Additionally, video evidence captured by these cameras will assist in buildingstronger criminal cases. There are pros and cons to implementing a body camera program, but the use of this technology will benefit both the agencies and the public. Programs should be implemented using a strong and well planned policy. The use of body worn cameras should be used in law enforcement operations.
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The use of technology in law enforcement has been a mainstay. Technology has allowed law enforcement agencies to operate in a more efficient and effective way ona day to day basis. History has proven this with the introductions of the automobile,radio, computer and audio/visual recording devices. These are just a few of theadvancements that have had a positive impact on law enforcement. Technology is always evolving,so law enforcement will continue to change. The use of video cameras is one of the biggest technological advances utilized by police agencies today. Past uses of video cameras were isolated to morespecialized units such as, narcotics investigators, SWAT teams, and interview rooms utilized by detectives. Today’s law enforcement has truly recognized the potential of the use of video cameras, and they are being utilized in many different areas. Red light cameras are utilized by many municipalities to assist in reducing the number of violations in specific intersections. Aerial drones are equipped with video cameras used to assist with searches. But possibly the largest use of the video camera is the in car video system (ICVS). Most departments across the country utilized ICVS. Early model systems were bases on VHS technology. These units were not very efficient. Officers had toreplace the tape in the unit anytime it captured something of evidentiary value, no matter how much time remained on the tape. Newer models came with an upgrade in technology. These units were digital and a lot more efficient. Data was stored onto a hard drive.To retrieve needed video from these units required pulling out the hard drive andsimply 2 downloading the needed data. The newest models are now hands free. Data issent from the ICVS unit to a secure server at the police department via Bluetooth orWIFI. The ICVS has allowed departments to stay in compliance with racial profiling laws. It is a great resource to use in fielding complaints on officers. The ICVS has its limitations. It only captures what is occurring in front of the vehicle and the microphone has limited range. These two shortfalls of the ICVS and a growing distrust towards police in many communities opened the way for the introduction of the body worn camera in law enforcement. Body cameras have been used with great success.These cameras allow for the entire contact to be recorded. Video gathered while on scene inside a residence is new and valuable evidence for building stronger cases and subsequent prosecution. Officer transparency and accountability is another great benefit. Officers being cognizant of the camera on their body will assure they conduct themselves in a professional manner. This, in turn, will reduce the number of complaints on officersand assist in resolving frivolous complaints in a timely manner. These are all reasons why body cameras should be utilized in today’s law enforcementoperations
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Law enforcement agencies across the country vary in size and the demographics of the areas they serve vastly differ; however, they all have similar obstacles and problems. Public trust and officer accountability are two very important areas.Officer misconduct or alleged misconduct can bring about negative media coverage, public scrutiny, and lawsuits to an agency. 3 The use of video cameras by patrol officers has been around for years. The cameras assist with officer transparency and accountability. Body worn cameras by police have taken these two areas to the next level. Citizens and police officers bothare more likely to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner, knowing the cameras are present. Lovett found that William A. Farrar, Chief of the Rialto Police Departmentsaid: “When you put a camera on a police officer, they tend to behave a little better… and if a citizen knows the officer is wearing a camera, chances are the citizen will behave alittle better (as cited in White, 2014, p.11). Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stated the use of body cameras “have the potential to be a win-win situation” (Lopez, 2015, p. 4). Citizen complaints on officers are something administrations have to deal with quite often. The use of body cameras can offer video of the alleged misconduct and assist with taking the appropriate action, if any. Jay Stanly advised that Sgt. Richard Royce, employed with the Rialto Police Department shared that video from a body camera exonerated him. He said “I’d rather have my version of that incident capturedon high-definition video in its entirety from my point of view, then to look at somebody’s grainy cellphone camera footage” (Abdollah, 2014, p.4). According to Fusion Investigates, Fossi-Garcia, and Lieberman (2014), the Albuquerque Police Department fielded 598 citizen complaints in a three-year period.Of those complaints, 74% were cleared in favor of the officers due to the use of video evidence. The Rialto Police Department’s body worn camera study found an 88%drop in citizen complaints and a 60% reduction in use of forces. It also found that shifts that did not utilize the body cameras had twice the use of force numbers than shifts thatdid 4 use the cameras (White, 2014). The Mesa Police Department conducted a bodyworn camera study utilizing 100 officers, where 50 wore cameras and 50 did not. Afterthe first eight months of the study, the officers who wore the cameras had generatedeight citizen complaints. The officers without cameras had 23 complaints filed (White,2014). Salt Lake County District Attorney Sam Gill stated, “The majority of police officers do their job honorably, but the…process is not measured by the actions of 99 percentof officers, it is the one or two that need to be held accountable and they aren’t”(Fusion Investigate, Fossi-Garcia, Lieberman, 2014, p.4). In the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Gardner, there is an antipolice movement sweeping across the country and distrust from the AfricanAmerican community as a whole. The use of body cameras is a step in the right direction toregain that trust. Santora ( as cited by White, 2014) found that the New York Police Department was the subject of a federal lawsuit for a controversial Stop, Question and Frisk (SQF) program in August of 2013. The program was found to be unconstitutional and presiding Judge Shira Scheindlin ordered the use of body cameras for officers working in those areas the program was most used. The hope was to bring the department into compliance with racial profiling laws (White, 2014,p.12). The judicial side of law enforcement has benefited from the use of body cameras. Law enforcement agencies’ main function is to protect and serve their respective communities. Part of that service is putting together strong criminal cases so prosecutors can successfully adjudicate those cases. The use of body cameras has allowed for complete documentation of officer contacts with the public, thus generating additional video evidence. According to National Institute of Justice (2012), 91%of 5 prosecutors surveyed acknowledged using video evidence in court. Of those, 58% spent less time in court. Video evidence captured from a body camera allows jurors to see the true behavior of the defendant and not the well dressed and quite defendant sitting in the courtroom (McFarlin, 2015).
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The use of body worn camera does come with some drawbacks. The cost of implementing the cameras is probably the biggest. In today’s law enforcement agencies, budgets are tight and every dollar is accounted for. National Institute of Justice (2014) conducted a marketing survey of 18 different models of body worn cameras. The cameras range in price from $119.95 to $1,000.00. The prices range drastically and selecting a model would depend on the agency’s needs and available funds. A lot of departments work 10 to 12 hour shifts to maximize manpower. The recording time of the camera units range from 1.2 to 128 hours (National Institute of Justice, 2014). Certain units will require software to be purchased to operate.Additional batteries and docks will also be needed. In addition to the cost of the units, there is a need for additional media storage space. Most departments already utilize ICVSand have media storage for video captured from those units. Body cameras will add to that storage. Jay Stanley with the ACLU, found that it would cost $33 million to purchase body cameras for all officers in the New York City Police Department. He also found in2013, the city of New York paid out $152 million in police misconduct claims. Utilizing those numbers, Stanley suggests that if the cameras program only reduces the misconduct claims by one-forth, the program would pay for its self (Lopez, 2015, p.5). 6 Dees (2014) did some preliminary estimates on the amount of digital media a 50 officer agency would produce utilizing the Taser Axon system. This unit stores footage at 640X480 video graphics array (VGA). Three shifts would roughly generate 360GBof video per day, which translates into ten terabytes per month. One way to curtail someof the storage cost is to use cloud storage services. Amazon Web Service (AWS) is oneof the largest storage services. Many large businesses and even the federal government use AWS for storage (Dees, 2014). A less restrictive policy on when to activate the cameras is a solution to the amount of video being stored. The Mesa project utilized 50 cameras for 1 year. Thefirst half of the year, officers operated under a policy where all contacts with the publicwould be video recorded. Officers generated, on average, 2,327 videos per month. The second half of the year, officers used their discretion when to activate the cameras.This reduced the videos generated to 1,353 per month, a 42% reduction (White,2014). Departments also need to research the capabilities of each camera unit andonly purchase the model they need. This will cut down on the base price of each unit. Departments can seek grant funds or other sources of money to make thesepurchases. President Barack Obama has proposed a three year $263 million grant package (Schlegel, 2014). This will allow several agencies across the country the ability to purchase cameras. Another alternative to cut costs would be to replace ICVS with the body worn cameras. This would save on the price of the units and the additionalmedia storage. Body cameras have limitations. One of the largest is the area of the body it can be mounted. Out of the 18 models surveyed, most of them mount on the chest or beltof 7 the officer (NIJ, 2014). The problem with chest mounted cameras is that it limits the view of the camera. If an officer is firing his/her weapon, the camera may record justthe officer’s arms due to the position of the body (“10 Limitations,” 2014). The camera is still gathering crucial evidence, but it is not the complete picture. However, there are twoof the camera models that can be mounted on the officer’s head. The AXON Flexattaches to a pair of glasses that the officers wear (NIJ, 2014). Video from these units wouldbe more from the officer’s point of view and help with losing valuable footage caused by positioning problems. Another huge drawback to body cameras is that they are over-relied on. Cameras are a good tool to assist in any investigation but should not be relied upon solely. Cameras may or may not record everything the officer sees in a critical incident. For example, an officer with the Oakland Police Department chased a suspect, which ended with the officer shooting and killing the suspect. The officer reported thesuspect had a gun. The officer was wearing a chest mounted camera. The city of Oakland spent an excessive amount of money to have an expert examine the officer’s body camera footage of the incident. Due to the angle of the camera, no gun was seen in the suspect’s hand. The department made the decision to terminate the officer for excessive response to the situation, but the officer was later exonerated. The gunwas located in the grass at the scene (Abdollah, 2014). The lesson learned is that just because the camera did not catch it on video does not mean it did not happen. The technological advances in cameras need to also be taken intoconsideration. Law enforcement officers are working 24 hours a day. It is logical to assume that officers will be making contact with individuals during the night time or in lowlight 8 situations. Most body camera models have a night mode setting. This setting, coupled with the high resolution of the cameras, allows for the camera to see what the human eye cannot at night or in low light (“10 Limitations,” 2014). For example, an officer isout on a subject at night and the subject has a cellphone in hand. The officer may not be able to see it clearly and perceive it as a threat. Video footage would clearly show thatit is a cellphone. This fact needs to be taken into consideration during aninvestigation. The truth about an incident should not rest solely on what the video recorded, all information such as witnesses, officer statements, forensics, and the humanfactors should all be considered during the investigation (“10 Limitations,”2014). Privacy issues are another problem that has come to light. According to the NIJ (Man Tech, 2014, 7), federal law requires a warrant to capture photos or video of individuals in places that they have an expectation of privacy. Also several states require that both parties involved in a conversation agree on the recording (White, 2014). Adding to the privacy issues are the individuals filing blanket open recordrequest for video obtained by body worn cameras. An unidentified man, who lives inSeattle, Washington, has filed a records request for all the video footage from bodycameras. The man then posts the videos onto a YouTube channel called Police VideoRequests. This anonymous man stated that his goal is to get people to care about theirprivacy when the police are called. He was quoted with saying, “If nothing else, I’m trying to demonstrate that agencies deployed a technology that the law doesn’t address…” (Alexander, 2014, p.1). Privacy issues can be avoided with implementing a welldesigned policy and training for the officers (White, 2014).
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Law enforcement agencies are some of the largest consumers of technology, with video cameras being at the top. Cameras are deployed in a variety of different ways and the benefits outweigh the problems. The use of body worn cameras shouldbe no exception. The introduction of body cameras into an agency should be done with a strong policy and training for officers. The cameras assist with officer accountabilityand transparency, which are two huge issues for police administrations. Police officers and citizens both have a tendency to conduct themselves appropriately knowing there is a camera present. Video from body cameras will assist with the investigation of complaints on officers and building stronger criminal cases for laterprosecution. The cost of body cameras can be a heavy burden on agencies. Most agencies have to operate on a lean budget and finding the funds for the cameras can be challenging. There are several different models of cameras, which vary incost. Agencies should research the capabilities of these units and select the model thatbest serves the needs of the department. The most expensive may not be the best for a particular agency. Financial assistance is available to those agencies that cannotafford the cameras. Applying for federal grants is a good source of money and also seizure funds may be available. These funds can be applied to purchasing additional media storage. Body cameras have limitations but still are a valuable addition. Cameras maynot clearly record what the officer is looking at, due to where it is mounted on thebody. However, they still offer audio evidence that could be useful. There are a fewcamera 10 models that allow for mounting on the head. This would correct thepositioning limitation. Body camera videos are over-relied on. The public and police administrationboth tend to put too much emphasis on what they see on a video. Although the video is important, it should not be the only thing considered. Camera technology hasadvanced passed the ability of the human eye. This is most prevalent during the night or lowlight situations. A good thorough investigation taking the totality of the situation into consideration is the best practice. The use of body cameras has raised concerns of privacy. Privacy laws vary from state to state and are definitely an issue law enforcement need to be sensitive to. New legislations are needed to allow for body camera exemption, but a well-researched and written policy is a solution fornow. The video camera definitely has a place in law enforcement. The body camera, although controversial, is beneficial to the men and women that put the uniform on every day. Officers may be skeptical about the implementation of a body camera program, but this will pass with time and experience. This was also true when theICVS programs were implemented. The technology can be expensive but money is outthere for agencies to purchase these cameras. Before implementing a body worn program, agencies need to have clear direction they want to go with the cameras and do the research. There is limited amount of research out there right now, but that is not a reason for departments not to educate themselves. The final two things is a wellwritten policy is a must and to be followed up with training. The National Institute of Justicehas policy templates for anyone to use. Based on all the information, body worn cameras should be used in law enforcement operation.
10 limitations of body cams you need to know for your protection. (2014,September 23). Retrieved from http://policeone.com/police-products/bodycameras/articles/7580663-10-limitations-of-body-cams-you-need-to-know-foryour-protection Abdollah, T. (2014, March 15). Officers fear body cameras raise privacy concerns Retrieved from http://www.policeone.com/police-products/bodycameras/articles/6976369-Officers-fear-body-cameras-raise-privacy-concerns Alexander, R. (2014, December 7). Police cameras raise rights issue, officials try to balance privacy, public right to know. Spokesman Review. Retrieved from http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2014/dec/07/body-camera-use-abuts-privacyissues/ Dees, T. (2014, December 3). Why Obama’s bodycam initiative won’t work. Retrieved from http://policeone.com/police-products/body-cameras/articles/7921687-WhyObamas-bodycam-initiative-wont-work Fusion Investigates, Fossi-Garcia, C., & Lieberman, D. (2014, December18). Investigation of 5 cities finds body cameras usually help police. Retrieved from http://fusion.net/story/31986/investigation-of-5-cities-finds-body-cameras-usuallyhelp-police Lopez, G. (2015, January 13). Why police should wear body cameras-and why they shouldn’t. Vox. Retrieved from http://www.vox.com/2014/9/17/6113045/policeworn-body-cameras-explained 12 McFarlin, C. (2015, January 7). Body-worn cameras: Benefits and best practices for police. Retrieved from http://inpublicsafety.com/2015/01/body-worn-camerasbenefits-and-best-practices-for-police National Institute of Justice. (2012). A primer on body-worn cameras forlaw enforcement. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/app/publications/abstract.aspx?ID=261713 National Institute of Justice. (2014). Body-worn cameras for criminal justice:Market survey. Retrieved from nicic.gov/library/028182 Schlegel, D. (2014, December 15). 3 things PDs should know about Obama’s body cam initiative. Retrieved from http://www.policeone.com/police-products/bodycameras/articles/7982969-3-things-PDs-should-know-about-Obamas-body-caminitiative White, M.D. (2014). Police officer body-worn cameras: Assessing theevidence. Retrieved from
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