Body Worn Video Steering Group

Body Worn Video Trials and Tribulations: Lessons Learned

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The Police Executive Research Forum recently released a report entitled “Implementing a Body Worn Camera Program: Recommendations and Lessons Learned”, covering the various aspects surrounding the introduction of cameras to an agency and their personnel.

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Within this report several ‘General Recommendations’ in regards to the use of the cameras in a live program. Firstly, the report outlines an area which requires policy in terms of which officers use the cameras and in what situations. While the forums position is that no ‘specific recommendation’ could be made on who should use the camera, it goes on to say that it would be dependent on an agency’s own resources and needs. From this it was concluded:

“Some agencies have found it useful to begin deployment with units that have the most frequent contact with the public”.

In addition to this should an agency supply the body worn video to an officer on a voluntary basis then policy should stipulate the conditions in which it is worn, an example of which would be a specified number of complaints or disciplinary sanctions, or involvement in a particular type of activity (e.g. special operations).

Another issue which is particularly pressing in an age of social media is permitting the use of privately-owned recording devices, considering this problematic the report states that:

“Because the agency would not own the recorded data, there would be little or no protection against the officer tampering with the videos or releasing them to the public or online. In addition, chain-of-custody issues would likely prevent the video evidence from being admitted as evidence in court.”

Considering placement of the camera on the body was also an area that identified key issues, overall the chest is found to be the most popular place to wear the device, on the other hand head mounted gear is equally popular because the camera ‘sees what the officer sees’ yet it is noted that some officers find the proximity of the camera to the eye concerning in the event of potential injury. The shoulder was found to be preferable to some, but easily blocked if an officer raised their arms – potentially invalidating valuable evidence. Finally, in relation to the use of firearms the position of the camera should be on the shooting side potentially giving a clearer view of events during shooting incidents.

Finally failure to record in certain situations is a question that is commonly overlooked, the lesson learned is that one should state verbally on camera or articulate in writing reasoning if they fail to record an activity where department policy requires them to do so.

“This may occur, for example, if an officer exercises recording discretion in accordance with the agency’s policy because he or she cannot record due to unsafe conditions or if a person does not give consent to record when consent is required.”

Despite the report being authored by the American organisation – Community Orientated Policing Services it provides clear, concise points which apply directly on a global level and adds to the analysis of body worn video. Dr Barak Ariel, a Cambridge University fellow in experimental criminology who has conducted extensive research on the subject claims

“Whether they calm the officers or the civilians or both, the cameras are a hugely powerful means of reducing trouble between the police and the public. “You’re giving up civil liberties, but you’re gaining transparency,” he contends. “The assumption now should be that things are being recorded on video, in high quality, all the time.”

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