Eyes On You

Eyes On You

The newest hot topic is all about the body

In the world of law enforcement, the subject of body-worn cameras has arguably become the biggest talking point. But in an age where anyone can pull out a smartphone and record video that often doesn’t provide everything that happened, it’s vital for law enforcement agencies to have a video record of their own that can help tell the full story.

With the use of body-worn cameras growing by the day, a research report released by Technavio in February projects the market to grow globally from $656.3 million in 2016 to $806.9 million in 2021. And since the public calls for more transparency from law enforcement, implementing a body-worn camera program can help law enforcement agencies improve relations with the public while also protecting officers and helping them improve the way they protect and serve.1

In 2012, a study completed by the University of Cambridge-Institute of Criminology in partnership with the police department in Rialto, Calif., examined whether bodyworn cameras would impact the number of complaints against officers or on officers’ use of force. The study was carried out over a year period, and the department randomly assigned body-worn cameras to various officers across 988 shifts.

One of the main takeaways from the study was the “self-aware effect” the cameras caused as a “neutral third eye.” The study suggests that neither officers nor the public want to “get caught engaging in socially undesirable behavior that may have costly consequences.”2

The body-worn camera works as an unbiased observer which helps to “cool down” both parties, and that is backed up by the statistics the study produced.

The study found that there was a 60 percent reduction in officer use of force incidents after cameras were deployed, with the shifts without cameras having twice as many use of force incidents as shifts using cameras. In addition, the study also found there was an 88 percent reduction in the number of citizen complaints from the year prior to camera deployment and the year following deployment.3

Even more recently, the police department in San Diego, Calif., completed an internal nine-page report in February 2017 that reported since its officers began wearing bodyworn cameras nearly three years ago, the department has witnessed a 43.1 percent drop in officer misconduct allegations and a 16.4 percent drop in use of high-level force, such as physical takedowns and weapon discharge.4

The report also stated that of the 520,000 incidents San Diego officers responded to last year, just over 4,600—less than 1 percent— involved the use of force.4

Body-worn cameras also capture timeperishable intelligence at crime scenes that would otherwise have been lost. As part of a 2014 research report completed by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) regarding the body-worn camera program, Jason Parker, Chief of Police for Dalton, Georgia, described the benefits of utilizing body-worn cameras in regards to evidence documentation, specifically regarding collecting evidence at accident scenes.

“Body-worn cameras capture everything that happens as officers travel around the scene and interview multiple people,” Parker said. “The body-worn cameras have been incredibly useful in accurately preserving information.”

Parker explained that officers are often focused on securing the scene and performing life-saving measures, and that witnesses and victims may not always remember what they had told officers in the confusion. This can lead to conflicting reports when victims and witnesses are asked to repeat their accounts in later statements. With this information, body-worn cameras help to better capture evidence and document it.5

Add in the fact that many body-worn cameras now have pre-event recording capabilities that capture video of events that happened prior to the manually activation of a recording, and that makes it even easier to ensure that crucial evidence isn’t lost or misinterpreted.

In addition to the other needs utilizing body-worn cameras can address, they also can function as an important training tool to help identify and correct organizational problems.

According to a survey completed by PERF as part of the previously mentioned 2014 research report, the survey found that 94 percent of respondents use body-worn camera footage to train officers and aid in administrative reviews.5

For example, the survey states agencies are using footage from body-worn cameras to provide scenario-based training, to evaluate the performance of new officers in the field, and to identify new areas in which training is needed. Utilizing body-worn cameras for training purposes can help an organization improve the way it polices, while also improving credibility with the public.5

With all of the benefits implementing a body-worn camera program can bring to law enforcement agencies, and the need to improve police and community relations in a time where society is closely watching both parties, law enforcement agencies can’t afford to leave the truth open to interpretation.

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Security Today.

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