Body-worn cameras in policing started approximately 20 years ago. In recent years, body-worn cameras has become a main focus following several high profile officer-involved shootings. Body-worn cameras show just one perspective of the incident. One’s vantage point may vary by the height of the camera view, where the officer is positioned at the time of the event (cover or concealment), and where the officer is looking compared to the position of the camera. These critical incidents very seldom tell the entire story.
Regardless of the limitations of the cameras view perspective society and the media have demanded that officers wear body cameras and that the camera footage should be released almost immediately with no explanation or education of police procedures, policies, training, and commonly accepted practices. Educating the public is not taking place, the media does not care about education and is simply running segments of video as an attention grabber to get viewers which translates to revenue through sponsorship.
When law enforcement, the criminal justice system, the public, and the media have different objectives and goals with the use of the body-worn camera footage it seems to be an uphill battle getting a consensus on if the footage is helping or hurting. Law enforcement is using the footage for training and to protect the officers civilly, the criminal justice system uses the footage for prosecution purposes, the media uses the footage for ratings, and the public uses the video for whatever they deem appropriate. Laying this out, the future of body-worn cameras seems to be one that will cause further divide and may lead to the further detriment of police officer recruiting and retention. To further complicate the matter, the legislative body at local, state, and federal levels have begun to use these video footages to help mold legislative reform.
Looking simply at the technology side of body-worn cameras has improved dramatically and is ever involving daily. With GPS capabilities that an officer is wearing on their body and knowing their exact location in managing resources from a command or dispatch perspective. A dispatcher can deploy resources if watching a foot pursuit live on GPS by heading off the potential route. Remote access/activating the camera will again allow command or dispatch to watch/listen to a situation to gather intelligence and allocate the proper resources. In an officer down situation remoting into the camera may help identify injuries, suspect(s) movements, and any other possible threats. Maybe the development of a body-worn camera system that will move with the officer’s eyes and head to help close the gap on the viewer’s perception and that moment in time, like the glasses that have been around a few years that have not been reliable and bulky.
The future of body-worn cameras is one of balancing everyone’s needs and wants. Those of us in the law enforcement community know that since the implementation of body-worn cameras that there has been a reduction in complaints against officers, a reduction in the use of force, a reduction in worker’s compensation claims, a reduction in manpower hours to investigate complaints and administer the complaints. More and more officers are being held accountable when they use excessive force with video, and officers are being charged in the courts for abusing their powers that have been recorded. Randomly checking officer videos for compliance with policies, procedures, and national acceptable practices is also important to the integrity of policing.