For decades activist groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) have been advocating for a higher transparency within the profession of Law Enforcement and its agencies. To meet these demands Body Worn cameras (BWCs) have become the tool of the trade helping to bridge the gap of trust between the public and those that serve them. They can be found in use as early as the late 1990’s but just recently, they have been mandated as to what and why will be recorded to include what limitations can be enforced while exercising in the scope of one’s duties Texas SB 158 (84th legislation) had adopted such practices (Texas Occupations Code §1701.655).
As one would lead to believe, this opened up a number of questions along the way. Like any new project, growing pains have emerged with both pros and cons attached to itself. In 2016, the Cambridge university conducted a survey gathering over 1.4 million hours of video from 1, 847 police officers. The end result was there was a 93% drop in complaints against the police officers. It is unknown exactly why there was a significant drop in this area but an educated guess may suggest that now that one was known to be recorded such accusations against an officer, specifically where in the past there was no true way of validating the complaint, could now be confirmed as false. If found to have been fabricated to a certain degree, legal action could be taken against the accuser. With that said, another contributing factor could be that the officer also understood that he or she was also recording one’s own actions and behavior that could be reviewed at a given notice with repercussions had one presented oneself unprofessional (misconduct). Body Worn cameras have shown other promising usage; the review of BWCs have assisted officers in reporting writing bringing a fuller narrative to the totality of circumstances involved in the incident. Such video footage has provided leads for detectives that have broken cases with critical information, and such footage has brought clarity from misunderstandings between the public and law enforcement.
With that said, BWCs also come with its problems. The first and foremost is the financial cost of preserving the videos. Most agencies work with a limited budget. The mandate of BWCs were initially funded by the Federal government providing a financial incentive that opened up the door for a ‘Bait and Hook’ effect. The growing FINANCIAL WOES are now being felt by most with the continuous, mounting cost of the saving of videos and there is no end in sight nor is there any expectation of future financial relief from the (same) government to help relieve any of the burden. (For a better of lack of comparison think of a Time Share holder…it’s the gift that keeps on giving). Another adverse effect to the usage of BWCs is the painstaking redaction that is needed to be done when addressing the public’s request for Open Records. Polices have adopted such stringent practices to protect the public’s privacy in order to prevent possible lawsuits and other stemming issues with the release of information. A 30-minute video of 3 officers on scene, each recording, could take an admin clerk hours to redact in preparation for a release. Last, but not least, there is the bipolar side of the usage of BWCs. It was mentioned above the pressure placed on law enforcement from activist groups wanting such transparency but the new trend is that the same parties of interest feel that there is too much transparency going on to a point where it is said that law enforcement is abusing the usage of BWCs. An example, NEWSWEEK reported that a statements from Vanita Gupta, former head of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, at a Leadership Conference on Civil on Human Rights suggested that the ability of an officer to review his or her BWC video footage before writing a report could alter one’s memory of the event, thus ’distorting’ one’s actual account of the report. Activists have also voiced their concern about law enforcement using BWCs to record the past rioting we have seen in recent years believing that a certain minority group could be targeted for their behavior.
So the question again is asked, “What do you believe the future of Body Worn cameras swill be in enforcement”? Well, one thing is for certain. BWCs are not going away any time soon. Instead, we can expect to see an overflow of amended or changing verbiage in one’s policy throughout the usage of them as case law dictates. And let’s not forget the political spectrum that we live in where any significant incident, that can be influenced politically, can render a threat to the integrity of it’s proper usage by the stroke of a pen. Either way, at the end of the day, the challenges of such CHANGE can and will be met by those that serve under the color of the Law and serve professionally while doing so.