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Body Worn Video Steering Group

Body Worn Video is a Police Tool, Not a Viral Marketing One

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Kashmir Hill, new technologies reporter for Forbes, within the past couple of days published an article entitled “A Future In Which Every Police Officer Wears a Bodycam Isn’t Entirely Rosy” investigating the use of footage taken from body worn video captured on the frontline.

Dallas-Police

One of the most controversial videos released online comes from America, where ex-NFL player Jermaine Green was fatally shot and killed by an officer responding to a call of abuse where Green threatened his partner with a knife in bed and refused to submit to police instructions. Garnering national attention, the video helped give context to the emotive family statement ‘shot whilst in bed’ and the shooting was found to be completely justified, where it might not have been without the body worn video tool to record the incident.

Warning: Graphic Content

“When there’s video, no one has to take your word for what happened,” says Donald Ringer, the systems administrator for the Daytona Beach Police Department. He says video has resulted in the dismissal of complaints about officers hundreds of times.

On the other hand video, or the lack of it, can cause issues to arise. In a notorious case of misuse Two Daytona Beach officers lost their jobs after it was discovered one had deliberately switched his camera off during an interaction with a suspect; and the other had not switched it on at all. In addition to the suspicious circumstances whereby the suspect was beaten up, the resulting lack of video shows there is clearly a need to uphold policies and guidelines surrounding the use of body worn video. Chief Chitwood has said the policy there is, “If you turn it off [during a criminal interaction], you’re done.”

Additionally the article nods towards the use of captured footage, and how some body worn video providers use sensitive material as a viral marketing tool on platforms such as YouTube, with no effort to protect the identity of suspects which can interfere with the private lives of those involved in an isolated incident, while the officer remains a faceless voice behind the camera. Naturally media interest in crime creates a pressure on departments to prove their (as a force) effectiveness and/or give clarity on a situation such as the Green example, yet a focus on protecting privacy should be considered and developing strategies to use the video in the most effective way possible to gain a conviction.

Furthermore there are several studies related to the effect of cameras which find that officers behave better wearing them – judging from a decline in complaints from citizens and use of force incidents. “There’s good reason to believe police body cams will have a net-positive effect on the world,” says Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union (read more). “But our endorsement of it is still pretty provisional.”

It is worth remembering that the Forbes article does not represent body worn video and its use in an institutional sense, but rather errs towards outlining the need to protect the public, and how the footage is used to educate, inform and build discussion with the communities where it is already in use, or in consideration for deployment. Glancing towards the future it is suggested additional features may become part of the technology, for example facial recognition, which in crowd-control situations has proved useful in the past.

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