Does your department already require you to wear a body-worn camera (BWC)? If not, the chances are that they will at some point in the not-so-distant future. High-profile cases involving law enforcement and the use of guns or deadly force are galvanizing both the law enforcement community and the public at large in the belief that BWC are necessary to protect police and citizens alike.
Cameras on police cruisers have become the norm, and it appears as though body cams are heading in that direction as well. But perhaps you’re a bit skeptical of the benefits of BWC. Let’s take a look at how they can have a positive effect on you, your job, and your community.
Curb bad behavior
At all times, police officers want to prevent confrontational situations. The idea is for both parties – police and citizens – to remain calm, steady, and levelheaded. We want to curb potentially bad behavior from both sides.
Studies have shown that wearing a body camera drastically reduces the number of complaints filed and sustained against police officers, as well as the number of use-of-force incidents. The International Association of Chiefs of Police estimates that officers with cameras are exonerated 96% of the time when a complaint is filed against them.
Stabilize the public’s trust
Just the simple fact of knowing their department is outfitted with body cameras can boost the public’s trust of law enforcement. This knowledge helps the public believe that the department embraces transparency and wants to protect not only its officers, but its citizens as well.
Tip the scales
As a police officer, you know that incidents often come down to he said-he said. A civilian and an officer have two different viewpoints of what went down, and in those instances, a piece of video evidence will often tip the scales one way or the other on who’s version of the truth is most accurate.
Evidence in court cases
Police officers go out every day and do the best job they can, often in dangerous conditions, to protect the public and enforce the law. But things don’t always go according to plan, and situations can turn on a dime. However, the bottom line is that you’re doing the best you can with the circumstances you’re given, and a body-worn camera can supply evidence that supports officers who behave lawfully.
Footage from body cameras can be valuable evidence in documenting encounters and potential crimes, and it can help bolster a police officer’s testimony in court.
Video footage from body cameras and recorded encounters can be an invaluable tool in training officers for the future. This is real life, real time interactions with actual civilians, not a rehearsed, scripted training video. In fact, some police cadet training programs institute KPI’s (key performance indicators) that can measure the progress a cadet is making. With a BWC, training officers can use the footage to see if the cadets are meeting their requirements, and gives them the ability to fix the mistakes as they see them.
A word of caution here – you don’t want to have your police officers start wearing body cameras without first training them on how to do so. Training should take place in a multi-phase process, with the first phase being pre-deployment training, then training during the first week of use, and finally ongoing training.
Are there drawbacks to body cameras?
For some departments, especially smaller ones, the cost of body cameras can be prohibitive. Depending on the camera, they can range in price anywhere from $300 – 400 and up for each unit. There are other associated costs with body cameras as well, including data storage and management, training, and administration.
The most controversial issue surrounding the use of body-worn cameras is privacy concerns for both police officers and citizens. Many police officers worry that brass will use the cameras to spy on them. There needs to be some discretion and specific policies on when the cameras are turned on and off to avoid any ambiguity.
Officers have a right to privacy when they use the bathroom, and many use down time to converse with their partner and get to know them better, even blowing off steam about work related issues. Officers don’t want these encounters to be used against them.
For the public, there are concerns about how data will be collected, stored, used, and shared. Again, there needs to be transparency in how the body cameras will be used, including policies and procedures, as well as an administrator to oversee the program and ensure the public’s trust.
Showing bad behavior
Unfortunately, there are always a few bad apples to spoil things for the bunch, and this is no different when it comes to law enforcement. Body cameras have the potential to show actual bad behavior on the part of the police. It’s kind of like an airplane crash – the thousands that happen successfully each day go unnoticed, while the one that crashes makes all the headlines. Much the same with police encounters, the thousands that happen daily without incident go unnoticed, while the bad ones tend to “go viral.”
The bottom line
Like any new and evolving technology, there are benefits and drawbacks, but the clear direction of law enforcement is body-worn cameras, and that’s a good thing. Not only do they help curb negative behavior, provide valuable evidence, and protect officers from unwarranted complaints, they are a great tool to keep officers safe while on duty, and that can only be regarded as a positive.