Cities are smarter, safer when the police department can capture images
- By Kevin Taylor, Steve Jussaume
- May 27, 2021
For better or for worse, the events of the past several years have put law enforcement under a microscope. Calls for improved safety and accountability within the law enforcement community have been widespread, and technologies like body-worn cameras have been endorsed—and in some cases even mandated—by many state and local governments.
This shift comes hand-in-hand with the continuing movement within many cities to embrace smart city technologies designed to improve safety and security, but police departments across the country have sometimes struggled to integrate this new technology into their lives and operating budgets. Manufacturers and integrators should be aware of both the operational and budgetary constraints within the law enforcement community, and be prepared to offer solutions.
Today’s Cities Face Financial, Social, and Other Challenges
In many cities, battles over social and political issues have spilled out into the streets. These demonstrations have stressed city infrastructure and placed increased attention and pressure on law enforcement. Smart city resources such as IP surveillance cameras, body-worn devices, facial recognition technology and others have been used to maintain order, identify wrongdoers, investigate police misconduct, and even vindicate officers falsely accused of improper behavior.
In many ways, these new technologies play an important role in helping a community take meaningful steps toward becoming a “safe city”—a necessary and integral component of the larger journey toward becoming a “smart city.”
Body-worn devices have become an important piece of safe city architecture, and as cities look for new ways to improve life for residents, businesses, and guests, understanding how best to support the law enforcement community has become increasingly critical. Like most of today’s smart sensors, body-worn devices can have a positive impact on both police departments and the communities they protect—but it is important to understand the challenges associated with embracing any new technology, especially in the current climate.
Cost Is a Problem—but a Solvable One
In many areas of the country, body-worn cameras are not just a “nice to have” technology anymore—they are a mandate, with officers now required to wear them to provide additional transparency to the communities they protect. While there have been many arguments over the pros and cons of body-worn technology, fewer conversations have centered on funding it. There is more to a body-worn camera solution than simply purchasing the devices themselves. Issues like storage, maintenance and scalability can introduce additional costs into the equation.
It is critical for departments to be aware of the funding resources available to them. For example, a department providing resource officers for local school districts may be able to use education funding to equip those officers. There are also government programs available: the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) allows criminal justice organizations to apply for body-worn camera grants, and they are not alone.
Manufacturers and integrators should be prepared to make end-users aware of these options, as this type of funding assistance is an unfortunate necessity. While many states have publicly embraced body-worn cameras, the actual money committed to those programs often remains insufficient.
Another way to defray the cost of body-worn devices is through the embrace of open-architecture solutions, which can help users avoid becoming locked into a single manufacturer’s product offerings. This allows departments to evaluate all available solutions to identify those that meet their needs and budget, but it also has implications that go beyond body-worn technology.
Today’s safe city infrastructure features a broad range of cameras, sensors, and other tools used by law enforcement. Open-architecture technology makes it easier for those devices to talk to each other, all while ensuring that departments won’t become dependent on a discontinued product line, or worse—a defunct manufacturer or supplier.
Cities Are Becoming More Integrated, which Means Communication Is Key
Safe city infrastructure likely includes a wide array of tools and devices, but if those devices are unable to communicate with one another, utility is limited. In addition to the potential financial benefits, open-architecture solutions make it easier to integrate new devices with existing technologies that users have already been trained to operate. Integrating body-worn cameras into an open-platform VMS that the organization has already invested in creates better workflow and ensures minimal disruption for employees as they learn to use the new devices.
A given municipality might have security cameras at specific intersections throughout the city. Likewise, a local college might have surveillance cameras present in multiple locations across campus. If an incident occurs at one of those locations that requires an officer to respond, having those security cameras and the officer’s body-worn camera feeding into the same system makes it considerably easier to not only combine and manage the resulting video and get a clearer picture of what happened on the ground, but to prepare it for potential legal proceedings as well. This sort of integration also helps with chain of custody because the video is all coming from one platform, making it simple to control access, to share among authorized users, and to present in a court of law.
This level of integration can help cities adopt a more holistic approach to security. With departments like public transportation, law enforcement, public works and even sanitation operating under the same platform architecture, it becomes easier to view the city as a single entity.
What’s more, any department that wishes to use a new sensor or tool can easily incorporate it into the existing platform. If a security incident happens at the airport, law enforcement might be able to tap into body cam footage, surveillance feeds, or even cameras designed to track arriving and departing flights. Because these are all integrated, information sharing becomes easier, and cities become safer.
Empowering Integrators Is More Critical than Ever
The way that body-worn technology is sold has changed considerably in recent years. In the past, systems integrators never had a chance to position body-worn solutions to their customers because the technology was traditionally sold via a direct sales model. Today, that technology can go through the channel, enabling integrators to present new options to the customers who trust their expertise.
From a local municipality standpoint, this also allows integrators to provide another value-added service to customers. Although going direct to the manufacturer has its benefits, it is ultimately not scalable, and it isn’t always feasible for smaller departments to account for expenses like flying in an out-of-state factory engineer who knows the specifics of the technology.
As more municipalities mandate the use of body-worn cameras and more end-users request them, the ability to work with local integrators able to provide consistent, scalable service becomes increasingly important. Manufacturers must empower those integrators with the information they need to confidently recommend the right body-worn solutions.
This means additional emphasis on education, particularly as law enforcement and other verticals continue to explore ways to better incorporate body-worn solutions into their day-to-day operations. Body-worn cameras are about more than just recording incidents: they are about providing transparency to the public regarding what actually took place. While this can sometimes result in a department being cast in a negative light, it can also be used to exonerate officers falsely accused of misconduct. A growing number of law enforcement leaders have also warmed to the idea that even footage that depicts an officer handling a situation poorly can serve as an effective training tool.
Perhaps best of all, body-worn cameras can serve as an effective deterrent for both members of the public and officers themselves. After all, if both parties know they are on camera, they are less likely to behave in a way that might later reflect poorly on them.
Today’s Body-Worn Solutions Are Accessible and Affordable—and They Make Society Safer
Body-worn cameras remain a relatively new technology, but the growing cries for increased accountability in the law enforcement community have thrust them to the forefront of the public consciousness. But police departments and correctional offices around the country have been left with questions: which devices to use, how to implement them, and—most importantly—how to pay for them.
Fortunately, the increased variety and accessibility of body-worn solutions has made it easier than ever for departments to identify the right technology to meet their specific needs—particularly amid the shift to a channel-based sales model. Police departments around the country can now work with the integrators they trust to find a body-worn solution that fits both their situation and their budget, and they can do so with the confidence that today’s open-architecture offerings will allow them to scale that solution effectively. As cities embrace a smarter, more integrated vision for the future, the ability to incorporate technology like body-worn cameras into broader smart city infrastructure will only grow more valuable.
This article originally appeared in the May June 2021 issue of Security Today.