To fulfill the Internal Affairs certification process, I will be answering Essay Topic number 2, “What do you believe the future of Body Worn Cameras will be in Law Enforcement?” In answering this question I will focus my response to Internal Affairs, as I will be able to share specific experiences and lessons learned by my Agency, the Grand Junction Police Department (GJPD).
The GJPD, is located in Grand Junction, Colorado. As with all agencies nationwide, individual state legislation dictates much of what Law Enforcement agencies are expected to do regarding Body Worn Cameras (BWCs). Colorado was no exception when SB 20-217 passed in 2020. Among many other legislative changes, BWCs drew much of the attention from legislators.
Specifically, the bill dictated all Colorado Law Enforcement Agencies shall provide BWCs to all sworn officers within their agencies who interact with members of the public. These officers are required to wear and activate BWCs when responding to a call for service or during any interaction with the public for the purpose of enforcing the law or investigating possible violations of the law. All agencies must be in compliance by July 1st 2023.
Fortunately, the GJPD has been using BWCs since 2019. The legislative mandates have many more requirements and procedures than what I have noted, and the GJPD had to adjust many of it’s procedures and practices accordingly. If agencies nationwide are not already in the process of acquiring BWCs and the staffing the needs to support them, they will be sorely behind the game when their state, or the Federal Government, mandates their use.
Many of the legislative changes in Colorado have directly affected Internal Affairs and other departments within the GJPD, as it relates to the production of records and evidentiary discovery. The GJPD had to staff multiple employees to manage the production and redaction of these records being produced to the District Attorney’s Office, defense attorneys and citizens. In 2019 and 2020 the GJPD Internal Affairs Department averaged eight open record requests for each year. In 2021 there was an increase to fifty record requests. This increase was directly related to BWC and other associated legislation.
A follow-up bill which passed in 2021, will require all Colorado agencies to provide all unedited BWC footage when there is a complaint of officer misconduct and a member of the public requests the footage. Agencies will then have 21 days to produce the video and contact anyone in the video who has a privacy interest in order to sign an authorization to release the video. The GJPD decided the onus for this requirement will fall on Internal Affairs. It may go without saying, but fulfilling these requirements for a major incident with numerous involved parties could be a pain-staking affair; especially for a one-person unit that handled 18 Internal Affairs investigations in 2021.
This brings us back to the original question. In addition to the initial costs of purchasing and staffing the obvious needs of BWCs, agencies will have numerous unforeseen staffing challenges as legislation continues to trend toward heavily increasing transparency.
All this said, the new age of BWCs is not all stress and frustration. My experience as a patrol supervisor and as Internal Affairs Sergeant has shown the end product is an incredibly useful tool which highlights the excellent work officers do day in and day out; also quickly helping to resolve Internal Affairs investigations. From a minor alleged theft complaint to an excessive force investigation, the BWC routinely supports officer statements, clarifies uncertainties and helps citizens have a clearer perspective of what occurred.
Are BWCs perfect? Absolutely not. But once the audience or viewer has a clear understanding of the limitations and considerations when reviewing BWCs, these cameras still stand as a superb tool to assist with Internal Affairs investigations.
Body Worn Cameras are not going anywhere. In fact, I only see the public and legislators pushing for more technology and transparency. Officers and agencies must to find a way to embrace the inevitable. The GJPD was ahead of the curve and has still fallen behind, because we were unable to predict the extreme legislative changes that occurred. I can only imagine what would happen to agencies that refuse to accept BWCs or are behind on this trend. It may not be recoverable for them.