Police Body Cameras: The Future is Now
The presenters for this 2016 PRIMA session were Richard A. Spiers, CPCU, ARM, Are, Genesis Management and Insurance Services and Attorney Samuel C. Hall, Jr., Crivello Carlson, S.C.
Currently, over 3,500 law enforcement departments use police body cameras and that number is expected to more than double over the next five years. Body cameras can have may benefits as well as risks. Many agencies using body cameras do not have adequate policies and practices in place.
Do Body Cameras Change Behavior? While empirical research is just beginning in this area, initial findings suggest a connection between the use of body cameras and potentially significant decreases in the use of force and citizen complaints. In the absence of a wider sample pool though, initial studies are likely not reliable and further statistical research should be able to determine whether body cameras do change behavior.
Reliability is also an issue. Conventional wisdom is that the officer’s video footage will answer all of the questions after a critical incident. However, the human mind and true field of vision are not capable of being recorded. Officers are traditionally resistant to using the safety glasses model, despite added benefits such as obtaining a more accurate depiction of what the officer observes. Cameras worn on safety glasses are less likely to be obstructed and it is easier to verify that the camera is not recording something that it shouldn’t be.
Public access to video is also an area of concern. Most states recognize a strong presumption in favor of disclosure of public records. Law enforcement and the public it protects usually (but not always) benefits from transparent policing. Also, many states recognize a constitutional right to privacy where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy and many states have constitutional provisions protecting the rights of victims. There is no “one‐size fits all” policy. One must really know the community’s expectations.
In regard to policies around body cameras, it is critical that stakeholders have copies of policies. Model policies are available to look at, such as ACLU, CALEA and policies from other jurisdictions.
Finally, key considerations when looking at policies include the following:
- Training must be provided for in policy
- Officer’s ability to start/stop recording
- When the recording should cease
- How long to retain video
- When/how to release video footage
- Availability of video to officer for reporting