The use of Body-Worn Cameras in the U.S. has continued to gain momentum in the last few years. Now, a majority of police officers across the country have a Body-Worn Camera (BWC) as part of their kit and police forces are trying to tackle the technological hurdles that come with so much data being gathered. Those hurdles, however, are a small inconvenience compared to the many benefits the body-worn technology offers to officers and the public. Here are just seven of the many reasons BWCs are so beneficial, and why we believe this technology will continue to grow and enhance the lives of citizens and professionals across all industries, and especially those in law enforcement and public safety.
1.) Body-Worn Cameras Bolster Accountability
There isn’t a conversation about body camera technology without the mention of accountability. A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center says majorities of both the public (93%) and police (66%) support the use of Body-Worn Cameras for that exact reason. One small device is able to create a piece of evidence that showcases the interactions between all parties involved, holding everyone accountable for their actions.
In an article published by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) soon after body camera technology was adopted in the U.S., the author stated: “Cameras have the potential to be a win-win, helping protect the public against police misconduct, and at the same time helping protect police against false accusations of abuse.”
The public is surely seeing the impact of body-worn technology. It seems you don’t have to look too hard to find examples of officers being held accountable for their actions recorded while on the clock. Claims of misconduct include police-involved shootings, excessive force and evidence tampering—and these are just a few examples in the news. This month, an officer in Baltimore is on trial for allegedly planting evidence, which was caught on his BWC.
At the same time, citizens are also being held accountable. “We’ve actually had citizens come into the department to file a complaint, but after we show them the video, they literally turn and walk back out,” said Chief of Police Ron Miller of Topeka, Kansas in a document released by the Department of Justice (DOJ). “There’s absolutely no doubt that having Body-Worn Cameras reduces the number of complaints against officers,” he said. Echoed by the police executives interviewed by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), they “overwhelmingly report that their agencies experienced a noticeable drop in complaints against officers after deploying Body-Worn Cameras.” Ultimately, they say, this is saving departments “significant amounts of time and money” by removing the need for lengthy investigations and lawsuits.
2.) Body Cameras Promote Transparency and Openness
Along with accountability comes transparency, and the new technology in law enforcement allows the public to see exactly what officers are doing. If departments purchase police body camera technology and record police activity, the department “is making a statement that it believes the actions of its officers are a matter of public record,” wrote Chuck Wexler, the Executive Director of PERF in a letter. He continued, “…Body-Worn Camera video footage should be made available to the public upon request—not only because the videos are public records but also because doing so enables police departments to demonstrate transparency and openness in their interactions with members of the community.”
A case in Greenville, North Carolina demonstrated the value of transparency for both the police and the public. Chief of Police Hassan Aden shared a story where a community group approached him with concerns that specific officers were racially profiling citizens during traffic stops. Together, they went and looked at the footage from the Body-Worn Cameras and realized there was a pattern of using weak probable cause to make the stops. Chief Aden suggested a solution. He determined training would help to fix the issue, and the community group was pleased with his decision. The community group “appreciated that we had the Body-Worn Camera footage, that the officers’ behavior was investigated, and that we used the video to help us improve,” Aden said.
Making police operations more transparent could work to bridge the gap between police and the public after a recent study released by the Pew Research Center shows just how disparate their policing views are. When it comes to the “deaths of blacks during encounters with police in recent years,” 67% of officers say they were “isolated incidents,” while 60% of the public say they are “signs of a broader problem.” In addition, most officers (86%) believe the public “doesn’t understand the risks and challenges they face”; conversely, a large majority (83%) of American adults “say they do understand the risks law enforcement officers face.”
3.) Body-Worn Cameras Improve Officer Performance and Civilian Conduct
Misbehaving while the teacher’s back is turned isn’t just a phenomenon for students. According to years of behavioral studies, people often act more appropriately if they know they are being watched. That remains true when it is a BWC doing the watching, according to Chief of Police Ken Miller of Greensboro, North Carolina. He was quoted saying, “We actually encourage our officers to let people know that they are recording. Why? Because we think that it elevates behavior on both sides of the camera.”
While a recent study of the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department found results that question the impact of body camera technology on the behaviors of both the public and police, many law enforcement leaders still attribute a lot of value to the idea that people being watched change their behavior. Chief Superintendent Cullen of New South Wales in Australia said, “After testing out Body-Worn Cameras, the overwhelming response from officers was that the cameras increased their professionalism because they knew that everything they said and did was being recorded.”
4.) Body-Worn Cameras offer an Impartial Eyewitness
Another benefit of the BWC is its ability to be an unbiased third-party witness. “A common assumption is that human memory works like a computer’s hard drive, or a camera’s memory card: every bit of information is ‘written’ or stored in such a way that it should be recalled on command and with nearly perfect accuracy,” according to a study done by several police psychologists. However, that is far from the truth. Instead, people tend to remember only the gist of an event, but not necessarily every detail in chronological order. To understand what is happening, the human brain will often interpret what we see, and that’s where details can get a little fuzzy, especially if it’s a traumatic or tense situation. When we can’t recall important information, our brain automatically fills in the gaps. This can account for people at the same event having vastly different memories about what took place. Body-Worn Cameras record events and dialogue exactly as they happen and provide an impartial account to law enforcement officials and the public alike.
5.) Body-Worn Cameras Aid in Evidence Collection and Court Proceedings
Aside from documenting encounters with the public, body camera technology also helps officers record what they see at accident and crime scenes. According to Chief of Police Jason Parker from Dalton, Georgia, Body-Worn Cameras have helped to improve evidence collection. “Unlike in-car cameras, Body-Worn Cameras capture everything that happens as officers travel around the scene and interview multiple people. The Body-Worn Cameras have been incredibly useful in accurately preserving information.”
Having more detailed documentation of scenes and interviews helps the public, as well. A study conducted by the International Association of the Chiefs of Police (IACP) found that 93% of prosecutors said video evidence is an effective tool for their jobs and reduces the time spent in court. They also reported that video increases the number of guilty pleas prior to trial and enhances their ability to obtain convictions.
6.) Body-Worn Cameras Improve Officer Training and Development
It’s hard to find something better than real-life footage from your jurisdiction when it comes to on-the-job training. The use of information technology by law enforcement, including reviewing BWC footage, helps officers learn from each other and is cost-effective. Scenario-based training allows forces to evaluate their officers and find areas where more training is needed, benefiting the officers and the public they serve.
7.) Body-Worn Cameras Provide Information to Identify and Correct Problems
The first step to solving a problem often requires you to realize there is a problem in the first place. The BWC allows agencies to do just that—and then enables departments to correct them. “Many police officials that the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) consulted said that Body-Worn Cameras have allowed them to identify potential weaknesses within their agencies and to develop solutions for improvement, such as offering new training programs or revising their departmental policies and protocols,” said PERF.
In San Diego, Chief of Police William Lansdowne said one of the reasons his department uses Body-Worn Cameras is to “improve its understanding of incidents involving claims of racial profiling.” Raw numbers don’t always capture the true scope of a problem, he said, but videos and audio provide an objective record. From there you can determine patterns and make solutions.
Ultimately, finding issues and solving them results in fewer complaints for departments according to the officials surveyed and improves encounters between officers and the public.
With so many benefits for everyone involved, have you already implemented a BWC program in your department? What other benefits have you seen from this technology? If you’re a decision maker for your department, we’d love to hear your thoughts on this technology.
About Getac Video Solutions:
At Getac Video Solutions, we leverage our firsthand experience to deliver reliable, rugged, integrated and comprehensive solutions that create confidence and trust, inspiring others to do their best job possible while serving others. It is our mission to continually evolve the promise of technology, to innovate solutions that are focused on keeping communities and those who serve communities, safe. We provide the next generation of technology to protect and serve. Getac Video Solutions offers one of the smallest and lightest BWC designs in the industry, along with software and hardware for your public safety needs. Learn more on our website.