I have always enjoyed science fiction. An interest in science fiction may not seem like the right way to start out an essay on the future of body worn cameras in law enforcement, but I will expand on that statement. If you have any knowledge of where Taser International, now Axon, got their name, then you may understand where I am going with the topic of body worn cameras and science fiction. Much like a successful Taser, the idea of body worn cameras on law enforcement, now with abilities like live video feeds and gunshot detection, seem more like something out of a good sci-fi movie rather than law enforcement tools.
I recall watching a show as a teen called Babylon 5 (science fiction of course) and remember how cool it was that at one point the security personnel having a drone like camera device following them to witness all their actions as an impartial observer. That concept though, the idea that the camera really can be an impartial observer, is an unfortunate overburdening of the camera itself. Body cameras are a great asset, but anything beyond what they currently serve, will only be a matter of functionality. I can say as a fan of cool science fiction like technology, I am disappointed to say this, but we have reached the peak of what a body worn cameras can do for law enforcement.
Realistically there are two directions that body worn cameras can go in the future: 1. Off the body yet following the officer (like in the sci-fi show I watched growing up), or 2. The only source of evidence allowed. Starting off with the first potential for future use, small drone like body cams that follow officers. Given that Axon has expanded their product offerings into drones tied into their Evidence.com ecosystem, this is a likely future at some point. Drones themselves have been getting smaller and more capable, as well as the ability to launch from fixed points. For several years now, commercially available drones already can follow a user either by camera-based object tracking or body worn transponder. This functionality combined with future artificial intelligence implementation will most likely also take the officer out of the loop on launching and recording once the reliability catches up to the demands placed on the equipment.
The second possibility for the future of body worn cameras is that they become the only source of evidence allowed in criminal prosecution and the extinction of the officer’s typed narrative report. I think this is the least likely potential future of body worn cameras for several reasons. First and foremost, while the usage of video only could potentially allow for impartial judgement, the lack of context without an accompanying narrative from the officer leaves many things to be interpreted by the viewer. Body cameras have been shown to be at times as unreliable as a cell phone camera in providing context if there is no explanation. For example, if an officer saw the suspect motion toward their waistband to retrieve a weapon, yet the officer was wearing a chest mounted camera and was in a bladed position; the body worn camera would see nothing. The only way to make this potential future work would be to have officers provide a narrative like deposition to all their body worn camera videos that resulted in prosecution, use of force, etc. If law enforcement sees a decline in the ability of officers to articulate their actions through typed reports, this may end up being a likely reality contrary to my predictions.
In conclusion, while I see the potential for some more developments in the technology of body worn cameras, I think they are as useful as they will ever be. Unless they find a way to make a body worn camera telepathic, it will never be able to convey the fear an officer felt, the odor that the officer smelled, or the motives of the suspect. As I said from the beginning, I love science fiction, and body worn cameras, once something from that genre are now reality. Barring contact from a civilization with technology far more advanced than ours, I would say that we have hit out peak!