Updated on January 2, 2023
6 minute read
Police Body Worn Cameras: A 3 sided debate
As police reform swept the United States in 2022 many police forces found themselves either doing research on bringing police body worn cameras to their agencies or they found themselves scrambling to put together a body worn camera program as well as finding the funding to purchase the equipment. Hundreds, if not thousands of law enforcement agencies found were engulfed in a debate about police body cameras. Many police departments still hang in the balance trying to decide if the body worn camera program is one that is willing to invest in. One thing is for sure, no matter what side of the fence you are on, the police, the citizens, administrators, local politicians and police unions all have different views on the pro’s and con’s of a body worn camera program.
This article gets into the nuts and bolts of police body worn cameras leaving no stone unturned when it comes to the pros and cons from each side. Let’s get into it.
What are police body worn cameras?
A body camera or wearable camera, also known as body cams and Body-Worn Video (BWV), body-worn camera (BWC), or body cam, is a wearable audio, video, or photographic recording system used by a police officer to record events in which they are involved, from the perspective of the officer wearing it. Body cameras are used by law enforcement to record their interactions with the public, or gather video evidence at crime scenes.
Police Body Cameras: The turning point for American Policing and BWC’s
It is debatable when the public’s trust in law enforcement took a turn for the worst but I think we can all agree that the 2014 death of Michael Brown at the hands of the Ferguson, MO Police Department is at or near the top. Since that 2014 incident that occurred in the middle of our county the rest of the nation has been festering like water in a pot set atop a hot stove on a steady uphill boil.
As with most national issues it took some time to get the truth and justice out of Ferguson, MI but that truth and justice wasn’t in the typical form. It didn’t come from the court house or in any trial. It came in the form of the beginning of police reform.
Following Michael Brown’s death police use of force issues that entered the national mainstream media kept on piling up one after another. Soon states and local municipalities began to hear the message from a concerned public and that message wasn’t going away. In fact by 2019 that message only got louder. The trust in American Policing had broken and people wanted to see firsthand what was transpiring during law enforcement use of force incidents where people of color were dying.
Police Unions caught in the middle
As communities demanded that cops start to wear body cameras and state and local governments started to affirm their chants for change police unions were trying to call a time out because there is a lot more than just attaching a body worn camera to a uniform and going out answering calls.
For many senior veteran police officers that have been doing their job day in and day out for over 20 years without any disciplinary history they have a valid point, why me? For the rookies and newer police officers they may be feeling that body worn cameras is just another tool thrown at them during a time where getting on the job in 2022 is just bad timing.
When it comes to law enforcement officers working the streets going to body worn cameras is a very debatable topic and in the end the government will have the final say and here’s why.
- The police cannot operate without public trust and confidence. This is Pillar 1 of the President’s task force on 21st century policing.
- The government sees police body worn cameras as the top box to be checked when it comes to police technology.
- From a municipalities point of view the government administrators don’t have to wear the body cameras and it ultimately protects them as long as they use the program the right way. What I mean by that is being transparent with the community and providing video footage to the public upon request according to state law.
- When it comes to transparency and public trust administrators and politicians have the ability to hit a home run in their implementation of BWC’s but there is also a chance for a fumble on the 1 yard line. Ultimately that’s up to them.
- The government has the ability to pump the brakes or speed up when it comes to selling the change to the men and women working the streets. Let’s be honest change in police departments can be difficult especially when there will be some agencies that hand out the BWC’s as employees walk in the door one Thursday morning.
I like to associate abrupt change to the scene of National Lampoons Christmas Vacation when Clark Griswold finds out that the company will no longer be giving monetary Christmas bonuses anymore. Police officers certainly can attach a price of priceless when it comes to freedom of movement, decision making and discretion when the day comes that all of those things will be caught on camera.
Benefits of Police Body Cameras
The following are a list of police body worn cameras pros for the community, the government and police officers.
- There have been several studies that have shown that a body worn camera program directly results in the decrease of citizen complaints against police officers and police departments. According to (George Mason University, 2021) who cites 3 key findings in the NYPD after a court-mandated department-wide rollout of BWC’s involving 35,000 New York Police Department officers. According to (George Mason University Starting, 2021) a large volume of publicly available data has been made available to study their effects, detailing NYPD stops from January 2017 to December 2019. The results showed three clear patterns.
1. First, fears that body-worn cameras would deter police from interacting with the public appeared unfounded. In fact, the number of investigative stops increased by nearly 17% after police were equipped with the cameras.
2. Second, citizen complaints against police decreased by roughly 20%. “Abuse of authority” complaints, which comprise allegations of mistreatment or intimidation and may comprise improperly stopping, threatening, or seizing property from citizens, dropped the most. Of all the types of complaints catalogued by NYC’s Citizen Complaint Review Board, abuse of authority is the most common.
3. Third, after adoption of body-worn cameras, the likelihood that a stop resulted in arrest went down by 16%.
According to (George Mason University, 2021) “Because complaints are going down at the same time stops were going up, we can reasonably conclude that BWCs are driving an increase in legitimate stops, as opposed to questionable or superfluous ones.”.
- Decisions being made by police officers become training moments whether or not charges are filed out of an incident. Decisions that are made by police officers in high-intensity situations recorded on body worn cameras can help solve some of the “why’s” as well as zero in on deficiencies and even policy failures. Nobody likes an “arm chair quarterback” or Monday morning quarterback” but if presented the right way this could be a pro instead of a con. Your body worn camera department policy should iron out any gray areas.
- Video recorded by body cameras helps protect the police officer and citizen against false accusations, claims of misconduct, or abuse.
- When there has been a history of misconduct, abuse and or brutality a body camera program is a step in the right direction for police and community relations.
- They may help prevent and de-escalate confrontational situations between officers and civilians because both will have an understanding that they are being recorded.
- Body cameras may help in providing identification of secondary suspects or witnesses after reviewing footage.
- Transparency between the police department and the public will be better. Sure the police department may have to fall on a sword faster if things go bad on camera but in cases where the opposite holds true police administrators can stand proud of the video evidence that ultimately quells suspicion.
- Officers will no longer need to leave vital components out of a police report for lack of memory because they will be able to hit the rewind button and write their reports while the video is playing.
- Some cases that would have gone to trial may in fact get plead out after body camera footage is seen during discovery. This could save tax payers money on unnecessary motions and trials.
- Training! Training! Training! Like talented pro athletes watch film of themselves and their opponents police officers and police administrators would be idiots if they didn’t use body worn camera footage to do the same. Just keep it positive, teachable and coach-able moments.
- A change in working conditions clause in police contracts will allow Police unions and administrators to have a chance at settling on contractual benefits when the body worn camera program is brought to their locality.
- Police administrators and mayors will have a golden opportunity to sell the change to their rank and file as well as send a prepared message to their community on positive change in the category of public confidence and trust.
- If you are a police administrator or a mayor there is a possibility that you may be able to sleep better at night knowing that stops, incidents and investigations are taking place under a watchful eye.
The following are a list of disadvantages or cons for police officers, the community and government.
- Money is the key component here. Coming up with the funding year after year in a category that never existed. The money will have to come from somewhere and remember this will continue into those years where states and municipalities are cash strapped due to over spending, emergency depletion of funds and recessions.
- Privacy issues will be a never-ending concern for citizens and officers until state legislatures enact specific laws regarding public records.
- Police departments will need to train records clerks on how to fulfill public records requests as well as discovery requests on saved body worn camera footage.
- Witnesses will be exposed on camera which may keep some from coming forward or change their mindset as soon as they see an officer with a body worn camera.
- Police departments will certainly need to assign personnel to care, maintenance and training of body worn cameras. Attach to this a budget set aside for training and new hire equipment.
- Police officers may feel that their discretion will be dried up not knowing if they can give a break, respectfully read someone the riot act, or even provide a life lesson instead of making an arrest on borderline crimes.
- If the change is sold the wrong way police officers may become disgruntled especially the more senior officers who have never been accused of being.
Will there still be a need for police officers to take notes?
Don’t throw away that Custom Police Notebook just yet! The great thing about writing down field notes or investigation notes in a police notebook is that they are fast and instant with the ability to be corrected. Police Officers will continue to write notes at incidents and crime scenes for the following reasons:
- Gathering written information is important in case something happens to the video recording.
- BWC staff may be off during times in which you are responsible for typing your reports.
- Video Recordings may glitch or not pick up vital information.
- If you are a note saver you will be able to go back into your police notebook and pull information yourself.
- COPJOT Police Notebooks come with room for readily accessible business cards to provide to witnesses.
- COPJOT Write in the rain police notebooks come with Miranda Warnings and evidence rulers.
Body Worn Camera policy and oversight
According to the (American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 2022) Police body worn cameras have the potential to serve as a much-needed police oversight tool at a time of a growing recognition that the United States has a real problem with police violence. But if the technology is to be effective at providing oversight, reducing police abuses, and increasing community trust, it is vital that they be deployed with good policies to ensure they accomplish those goals.
Body worn cameras, if brought to your state or local town or city, will be there to stay. The program as well as the policies and procedures encompassing the body worn cameras will be just as important as the recordings amongst officers and citizens. With a great policy ironed out amongst unions and administrators with input from citizens at town hall style hearings body worn cameras have the opportunity to be a positive investment for a community rather than a burdensome addition of new gadgetry.
Body Cams Equipment Cost
On a per-device basis, costs range from a low end of about $100 for basic models to a high of around $1000 per unit. The difference in overall cost depends on features, options, quality, and manufacturer.
However, the total cost may be as much as $1,200 per unit when additional maintenance, data storage, and retrieval costs are considered. We expect these costs to decrease considerably over the next few years as the technology improves and new suppliers enter the market. The emergence of new suppliers will also bring forth new features, such as live-streaming cams.
Where to Buy the Equipment
If you need to buy equipment, there are several manufacturers and distributors. The following is a sample list of providers:
Amazon.com – Amazon.com offers an extensive collection of body cams and is probably the most accessible place to buy from. However, they are not an official supplier to police departments. Check out Amazon’s selection. Prices range from $100 to $400.
CopsPlus.com – CopsPlus.com offers the PFB1000 1080p Prima Facie 32 GB Body Camera. This unit clips directly onto the officer’s uniform and allows them to record footage in high-definition. This device offers 32MB of memory storage. During our last research these were running about $740 per unit.
L3 Mobile Vision, Inc. – L3 provides a body-worn product called BodyVision. Their product allows officers to easily and quickly download data and captured video, manage devices and search by case. They offer software and cloud-based options. This particular solution provides five hours of high-definition recording capability and has a 72° field of view. Search captured clips by date, car, officer, and more. The company also has several other excellent solutions. For example, systems for cars and motorcycles, tablets, license plate recognition tools, and digital evidence management solutions.
OfficerStore.com – The Office Store offers an extensive library of products for law enforcement. They have a wide selection of body-worn cameras and all necessary accessories. Plus, they have batteries, chargers, protective lenses, cables, docking stations, mounting equipment, software, and more.
TASER® International Inc. – TASER is one of the largest video equipment providers and stun guns to law enforcement divisions in America. They provide a wide range of video devices from $400 to $700 each.
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