When I started in law enforcement back in 1999, my department did not have in-car cameras, much less body-worn cameras. Shortly after, in about 2003, the in-car camera systems began appearing in our patrol cars. I remember hearing officers complain that they were being spied on and that the cameras were just a ploy to catch officers misbehaving. We quickly adjusted to the camera systems and life moved on. Several years later when the body-worn camera systems began appearing and the complaints same began again.
Whether we like it or not, body-worn camera systems are here until technological advances make them obsolete. In reality, these cameras offer many benefits in enhancing police-community relationships. They offer transparency with the community, they increase civility in citizen encounters on both sides, they provide faster resolutions on complaints, they protect and preserve perishable evidence, and they provide a reference point in identifying deficiencies and developing training opportunities (Chapman, 2018).
Regardless of the many positives associated with body-worn cameras, there are some negative issues also associated with their use. There has been a tendency to over-rely on camera systems during investigations. Cameras may not show the perspective of the officer and may overlook crucial minute signals that the officer observes. Some groups have complained that body-worn cameras violate the privacy rights of citizens who are filmed in public or even in their homes without consent. Still others believe that the use of body-worn cameras will impact officer’s mental health negatively due to constantly being under surveillance (Police body cameras, 2021).
I believe that even with some of the negativity surrounding the use of body-worn cameras, that they are a necessary advancement in modern policing. They have proven to be much more of a benefit to law enforcement than a detractor. Several studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of these devices. Most of these studies have shown that officers wearing body cameras are more cautious and sensitive in dealing with citizens and that the majority of citizen complaints have been definitively and swiftly resolved using the captured footage. Many states are recognizing the importance of body-worn camera systems and are passing legislations to mandate their use and to assist agencies with data storage expenses which may be the largest hurdle that most agencies must overcome in implementing body-camera policies.
In the future, we will continue to see agencies equipping their officers with body cameras. There are many technological advances in camera technology that we are already beginning to see. In Fort Worth, we are currently testing the new Axon Live system that allows officers in the Real Time Crime Center to tap into a live feed of an officer in the field’s body camera. This allows location data and relevant information to be quickly shared with officers responding to an officer in trouble, even if the involved officer cannot provide the information themselves. Technology is also currently in use that automatically activates the body camera of all officers in range as an officer exits their patrol vehicle, draws their Taser, or even draws their firearm. This takes the pressure off of the officer in the field in remembering to activate their camera when necessary and as mandated by state law and helps ensure that footage is captured at critical events.
Body-worn cameras are necessary, especially in this era of policing. They not only provide protection to the officers, but they help hold them accountable for their actions. They can help to develop trust and offer transparency to the very public that we serve. The issues we will need to overcome include balancing the privacy of the public while maintaining the trust of our officers and mitigating the costs associated with obtaining and maintaining the camera systems, and probably most importantly, the costs associated with data storage. We must also remain vigilant to not become over reliant on cameras as they may not capture all of the data that is relevant in an officer’s decision. They remain a useful tool in modern law enforcement when used appropriately and are crucial in police/community relations.
Chapman, B. (2018, November 14). Body-worn cameras: What the evidence tells us. National
Institute of Justice. Body-Worn Cameras: What the Evidence Tells Us | National Institute of Justice (ojp.gov)
Police body cameras: Top 3 pros and cons. (2021, June 8). Britannica ProCon.org.