Friday, December 5, 2014

Officer Hollywood?

Rialto, CA Pd using Taser Axiom Flex
It's a no-brainer that every law enforcement officer in America should use an officer worn video/audio recording device right?
It's only that simple if you look at this emotionally and ignore logistics.

I've heard a lot of things said about officer-worn video and audio recording devices, both from the general public and law enforcement officers alike.  Much of what I've heard shows how much most people don't know about this form of technology.  First of all this tech isn't new.  Some agencies have been using in-car cameras for close to 30 years.  Officer-worn cameras have been used for nearly 15 years.  This equipment has in the past been often too costly (often $2,500.00 or more per car for a complete system) and very complicated for most agencies without full-time A/V evidence technicians.  The systems that were affordable by smaller agencies were often poorly made and unreliable.  The storage medium on many of these devices was very limited and needed to be changed often, which then created storage issues.  In addition to these issues, these camera systems were useless once the officer was no longer in the direct line of sight of the camera.  Many of these systems had audio recording ability from a microphone transmitter located on the officers uniform and once again, useless once out of range from the main unit in the patrol car.

Step forward to the next leap in this technology.   Many of the same features found on those in-car systems can now be found on devices small enough to be worn on an officers uniform and costing around $500.00 per unit.  This new breed of devices can record video and audio with some devices offerings HD video recording.  The video and audio capabilities, as well as the amount of footage, is dependent on the make, model, and type of storage.  The two most common type of officer-worn devices are units that go on the front of an officers uniform and POV or point of view.  Those that go on the front of the officers uniform will capture video that is directly in front of the officer's body.  POV style cameras are often head mounted and will capture video in the direction the officer is looking regardless of body orientation.  POV style cameras are the more expensive of the two and some people feel they make officers look unnatural.  These devices typically store their footage on flash memory which can be uploaded in a wireless fashion or by some physical connection to the computer that will store the footage.

These cameras are now cheaper and easier to use not to mention that several well-respected technology companies are offering options, so jump on in right.  Not so fast, the cameras are in fact cheaper and easier to use, but what about where to put all that footage, and who has access to it, how is it sent out when requested, who can request it and what 4th Amendment concerns do we have.

The storage requirements for footage recorded during most if not all contact with citizens by every officer on the force could be staggering and complicated.  This storage would also have to be managed so that recovery was practical and convenient.  Another concern is the time officers would need to spend in order to upload their camera's footage and how that could affect their patrol activities and possible overtime issues.  Policy and procedures must be adopted by agencies who use this technology so that usage is uniform and not arbitrary, plus officer training on use.  Fourth Amendment issues were less prevalent with the in-car recorders due to the footage it captured rarely coming under the reasonable expectation of privacy issues.  With officer-worn cameras, the footage will be generally everything that the officer's body or head is pointed toward once activated.  One scenario where this could be problematic could be where an officer goes to a residence for a 911 call and a neighbor makes a request for the footage under respective states "Sunshine Law" or a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.  In this situation, a neighbor could get access that he wouldn't normally have to someone else's home where a reasonable expectation of privacy exists.  People also reasonably have concerns about being recorded without consent.  In VA where I'm located, the law allows recordings as long as at least one of the recorded parties is aware of the recording.  The officer's voice being recorded would count as one and as such, it would be a lawful recording.  I won't go into all the evidence related scenarios that could be brought up as that could be a book unto itself. It could be argued that the law hasn't kept up with technology.

The agencies that have started using officer-worn recording devices have seen dramatic decreases in the use of the force as well as official complaints.  These decreases can be attributed to several things.  citizens are less likely to act out, curse, and or assault officers when they know a camera is present.  Officers are more likely to follow policy and procedure as well as appropriate use of force when they know their supervisors will see the video of alleged officer misconduct.  Some officers have had concerns about all their interaction with the public being recorded.  The camera will vindicate those officers doing their jobs professionally and shine a light on those who need to be re-trained or relieved of duty.

Full disclosure: I'm a full-time Police Sergeant and personally support the use of officer-worn and in-car cameras on all officers who have contact with the general public.

"To record or not record that is the question."

Augusta Water Cooler


northierthanthou said...

Interesting discussion, but I don't think it benefits much from the set-up. Far easier to kick down the notion that a stance is obvious than to simply argue against the stance by itself.