24/7 VIDEO COVERAGE
- The Use of Body Cameras –
By: Joseph Hegedus, Esq.
The inexorable march toward 24/7 video coverage of the average patrol officer's work shift continues with the latest innovation --the body worn camera.
The utilization of body cameras in the police profession is certainly a prevalent topic of conversation in the industry.
While it will be some time before any conclusions can be reached as to whether these cameras result in an overall positive or negative experience for police officers and/or the public, it is important that the commencement of the utilization of the cameras is preceded by proper training and a comprehensive policy governing their use,
No one will benefit from a premature rush to employ this new technology without a carefully crafted and flexible policy which provides clear guidelines concerning many aspects of its utilization. Also, it is important to note that utilization of cameras does not obviate the need for officers to continue to provide complete and accurate written documentation of every critical incident.
Any decent policy concerning the use of these cameras should contain, at minimum, provisions detailing:
1. The amount, the substance and the frequency of training required prior to and during their use;
2. The location(s) on the body that are acceptable for the camera to be worn;
3. The types of encounters and/or contacts with citizens to be recorded;
4. The permissible timing for the conclusion of the recording or the deactivation or non-use of the device;
5. A prohibition against editing or altering the content of a recording without permission from a supervisor;
6. The universe of persons permitted and, the times and locations when it is permissible to review the recorded information;
7. The storage of the recorded information and the length of time that the recordings are required to be maintained; and,
8. The handling of public records requests related to the recorded information and the distribution of the information subject to such request
Obviously, the foregoing list is not meant to be exhaustive. But, it does highlight broad categories of information that should be included in a policy governing the utilization of body cameras.
While there is no question that the cameras may be very useful tools for documenting evidence, corroborating the content of encounters with third parties and providing fodder for future training exercises, it is important to recognize that these devices are just another tool which, when properly employed, will, hopefully, enhance the officer's effectiveness and assist in protecting the user from false claims or improper allegations of misconduct.
However, like any new technology or tool, it will not be surprising if their utilization is accompanied by some bumps in the road before the true value of the cameras are realized and/or optimized.