has become a “hot topic” with the news media, social media, communities, and
police departments, federal and state legislatures addressing the issue. One
consideration of transparency is, of course, cost. There are many hidden and
unconsidered costs that are not evident during a casual examination of the
seems, to many, to be a simple matter of purchasing a camera and handing them
out becomes a logistical nightmare of storage, management and reoccurring
costs. When the need for training and request fulfillments is factored in,
these ongoing costs will become a permanent budget item.
aspect of the rush for body-worn cameras that is often not discussed is whether
or not they will actually produce the documentation the public and press
believe they will produce. All too often, it is believed that if an officer had
been wearing a body-worn camera, the entire incident would be documented in a
clarity that would provide definitive evidence of the encounter.
it is the encounter that involves the use of force that will be requested. Many
persons do not understand some of the concepts and principles involving use of
force that are taught and used by police, guided by statutory and case law. For
example, the concept that police should ‘shoot the subject in the leg’ is
popularized in the movies and by ‘talking heads’ on the news. However, it is not what is taught or believed
to be the best practice.
too often, existing video shown by the commercial media or in social media is
often edited in a manner that it does not show the context of a situation. Eugene
P. Ramirez wrote in A Report on Body-Worn
Cameras (2014): “The video itself will not tell the whole story of what
took place, just a snippet of what occurred. There must still be an
investigation as to what the officers believed and what other facts surround an
incident. Wholesale reliance on a video will not do justice to anyone without a
of the common areas of misunderstanding is what the courts have held in the
past and apply today about use of force. The United States Supreme Court, in
Graham v. Connor, established that when police officers were engaged in
situations where the use of force is necessary to affect an arrest or to
protect an officer’s life or that of another, the police officer must act as
other reasonable officers would have acted in a similar, tense, and rapidly
evolving situation. The totality of the circumstances—not just a snippet of a
video or that of a witness—is what the court will consider.
courts look at the severity of the alleged crime; whether the suspect poses an
immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others; whether the suspect
is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by escaping; what
would a ‘reasonable’ officer consider in deciding if a subject poses an
immediate threat to the safety of the officer(s) and/or others? The
considerations are many, i.e., number of subjects, number of officers, weapons
present, lighting, injuries, fitness, prior knowledge.
if only the video from a body-worn camera is considered—as often is the case in
the news or social media—the totality of the encounter is not considered. While the public and the press may believe
the body-worn camera will provide a clear and definitive documentation of the
encounter, there are many limitations that will not be conducive to providing a
definitive record that is not open to interpretation or ‘spin.’
decision to deploy body-worn cameras is probably more complicated than one
might think. Beside the considerations
of cost, training, management, storage and fulfillment of requests for the
product, what are the considerations for issuing them to police? For full deployment,
most would assume that body-worn cameras would be given to all officers. Would
that include all beat officers? All plainclothes officers? All detectives? All
administrative officers who could interact with the public?
strategic deployment is another manner of equipping a department with body-worn
cameras. This would be done to evaluate what activities by police would benefit
the most by the use of them, such as high-risk activities and job functions
where the use of force is more likely to occur.
The decision process by the command staff to determine where the
activities arise could be problematical by the very nature of police work.
After all, an officer may have dozens of contacts a day, but rarely use
next operational challenge is understanding the point of view that the body-worn
camera produces. A common mount for the body-worn camera is on the officer’s
chest. This produces several challenges. For example, the lens view is not the
same height as the officer’s view. The field of view is generally not the same
as the human eye. The camera does not have the ability to shift right, left, up
and down like the human eye does. The officer’s hands, arms or weapon may
obscure the lens.
lens may be blocked by the cover and/or concealment used by the officer. Other
subjects, suspects, back-up officers, bystanders, etc. may be blocking the
camera, while the officer may have a direct view of a threat. The camera may be
moving and swinging as the officer walks, runs, or shift his/her body,
producing a poor recording.
alternative mounting method is the head mount. This position has the body worn
camera more closely to the level of the officer’s eyes. However, is the angle
of the field of view the same as the binocular vision of the officer? Because
of the fixed nature of the lens, it will not document the view of the officer
if he/she cuts or shifts his/her eyes to the right or left.
each case, the recording may not be optimal. There is one recent example of a
body-worn camera recording of an officer driving a patrol car, while pursuing a
suspect and receiving gunfire. The chest-mounted body-worn camera has excellent
clarity, but does not pick up any of the view of the officer while driving,
only the sounds. And the video is erratic, only reflecting the confusion of a
deadly force encounter.
body-worn cameras capture sound, it is not necessarily going to record what the
officer hears. First, the officer often has a shoulder mike that is close to
his/her ears and he/she may concentrate on those transmissions. Second, under
high stress, officers often experience auditory exclusion. There may be sounds
the body-worn camera detects, but the officer does not perceive them because of
auditory and visual processing.
bottom line on the perspective and view of the body-worn camera is that it may
record one view, but it is not the total or accurate evidence of the totality
of the encounter.
are three manners in which the body-worn camera can be activated or used to
record an encounter. These include manual activation, event-based activation,
and continual or constant recording.
activation relies totally on the officer to make the decision when to turn the
body-worn camera on to record. Does he/she
activate it on the approach? Or only when things escalate? And how does the officer predict when the
encounter is going to escalate into an argument, a use of force situation, or
otherwise results in an issue that the command staff and/or the courts become
involved? And, when do they turn off the camera? And what happens if they
forget or do not have the opportunity to activate the camera?
activation is generally policy-driven. The department establishes an SOP
directing the officer to begin recording when responding to or encounter
specific type of incidents—armed subject, forcible felony, a traffic stop,
or constant activation records officers’ actions from beginning of shift to
end. While this will be good to document the officer’s actions and eliminates
the problem of forgetting or not being able to activate the body worn camera
because of rapidly evolving situations, there are a host of problems this
are privacy considerations. Is it legal in your state to constantly record both
video and sound of non-police encounters? Is it a one-party or two-party
consent state? What does the officer do when he/she uses the restroom? Officers
may make on-scene sidebar comments and discussions during their shift.
does the officer do when they have to take a call from a family member or
friend about a sensitive issue, such as a medical exam treatment or report? How
does the officer develop and collect information from a confidential informant?
Officers may be discussing or drawing on-scene tactical planning. Can partners
have to stop their casual conversations while getting to know and interact with
are your state laws about video and audio recording while responding to a call
in a private residence or business? There are federal and state laws
restricting dissemination of restricted information, such as the identification
of a sexual assault victim, criminal histories, HIPPA information, etc. What
about recording the NCIC return about criminal history, driver’s license, and
vehicle registration information? What are the community concerns about ‘Big
Brother’ and always being recorded?
many states, the work product produced by the police is discoverable either by
request or through court order. The public can generally obtain copies of
police reports and other records by request. Are the digital recordings of a
body-worn camera ‘open record?’ How will it be requested? Who will review
will portions of it be redacted or deleted, in accordance to statutory law or
department policy? How will the department ensure the integrity of the
recording as evidence? It could be that organizations such as Cop Watch will
request all the officer’s videos and then edit it ‘out of context’ to pursue a
partisan agenda and/or creating artificial problems.
technology allows for body-worn cameras that are compact, high-resolution, and
durable. It is now up to agencies to adapt policies and procedures to guide
their use in a manner that provides all involved with documentation that is as
thorough and complete as possible, yet ensuring legal and privacy issues. It
may be difficult at times to satisfy all aspects of transparency, but a
thorough evaluation of the technology, social and community concerns, legal
concerns, and management should make the goal attainable.
has 35+ years of law enforcement and training experience with federal, state
and local LE agencies, with primary experience in investigations, homeland
security, close protection and intelligence. He can be reached at Richard.firstname.lastname@example.org.