Table of Contents:
- Body-worn cameras for law enforcement: A really big deal and really, really Big Data
- Body cameras for law enforcement: A really big deal and really, really Big Data
Author Edmond Vea outlines some of the capabilities and technical challenges associated with use of body-worn cameras by law-enforcement officers, which has been the focus of considerable funding and political attention during the past year. Vea also introduces a survey to gather input from readers about body-worn cameras, the results of which he will unveil during2015 in March.
By Edmond Vea
Considering the history of the adoption of in-car cameras for law-enforcement purposes and what history bodes for the eventual use and funding of body-worn cameras, you could say it is déjà vu all over again.
According to a 2002 study conducted by International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), in-car cameras initially were introduced into patrol vehicles more than three decades ago to assist with documenting infractions leading up to drunk-driving stops and the subsequent sobriety tests. In the 1990s, in-car cameras were used to assist in narcotics convictions. It seems juries had a hard time believing that drug traffickers would willing submit to having their vehicles searched voluntarily—until they saw the tape. But the widespread use of such cameras took off in response to court rulings alleging racial profiling in the late 1990s and the resulting $21 million in federal funding from the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant program that helped pay for them.
According to the study, the benefits of in-car video outweighed the drawbacks. Some of the main benefits were enhancing officer safety, improving accountability while reducing liability and simplifying incident review. Other benefits included improving training, community relations, and strengthening leadership. A much more recent study, Police Officer Body-Worn Cameras; Assessing the Evidence (2014)—also funded by the DOJ—extends similar findings directly to body-worn cameras, concluding that they offer “increased officer safety and accountability and reduced agency liability.”
From a performance perspective, it is hoped that body cameras can overcome some of the technical challenges associated with in-car systems such, as their lack of peripheral vision, fixed position, distance, and limited scope. Of course, body cameras will not be a panacea. But in a day and age when almost every individual in society has easy and instant access to a portable video and voice recorder, it only makes sense that law enforcement makes use of similar technologies to assure independent access to video and audio transcripts of an event or incident, even if the quality, perspective, and audio fidelity may not always be optimal.
As is the case with the adoption of all new technologies, there are also setbacks and disappointments. Often, these can be attributed to a top-down approach to planning, acquisition, education, and execution. In the case of something as potentially invasive as a body camera, a lack of consensus regarding the purpose and use of the cameras by the line officers can present serious challenges.
Sgt. Aaron Kelliher of the Chino (California) Police Department offers methodology and suggestions to improve line-officer acceptance of body cameras by making use of FIT (Focus-Involvement-Testing). FIT seeks to gain acceptance by engaging line officers as early as possible in testing phase.
Working with volunteers and focus groups within the force builds understanding, consensus and/or at least compromises before moving ahead with a full-fledged acquisition and deployment. Cities like Philadelphia and Houston, perhaps anticipating resistance to the wholesale adoption of body cameras, both started pilot projects in December. In Philadelphia, 31 officers volunteered for the project to be conducted in the 22nd District; in Houston, 100 officers were selected from five divisions: Traffic Enforcement, Special Operations, Central Patrol Division, North Division and the Crime Reduction Unit.