Law enforcement body worn cameras (BWC) have become an important device for police officers to carry. Not only to protect the police officers but also to protect civilians from police power abuse. Body worn cameras have also helped capture footage during unforeseen conditions. Body worn cameras have lifted a lot of liability off of police officers from false civilian accusations. Generally speaking body worn cameras have helped tremendously bring justice to both civilians and the police force.
Body worn cameras have become popular not only for the police force but also to security guards protecting private facilities such as shopping centers, department stores, malls, supermarkets etc. Security guards have the strenuous task of walking miles securing private properties. During their walk, they run into multiple problems that requires reporting back to their superiors. The validity of those reports are now being corroborated with video recordings captured from body worn cameras.
Body worn cameras are palm size or smaller cameras that can record video on built in memory (SD cards). They can record round the clock, manually or upon motion. This can be pre-configured, password protected at different user levels if needed, to avoid police officers or security guards from tampering with video recordings.
Body worn cameras, depending on quality, have many different video resolution recordings and image snapshots. They can range from 2 megapixel all the way to 50 megapixel resolution. They can also be equipped with infrared LED around the camera to get nighttime footage. Newer body worn cameras have been developed with Sony Starvis or Starview technology to see full color at night.
Body worn cameras have microphones built in to record audio in sync with video footage. Video recording alone can be interpreted differently by different people. Thus, audio recordings are as important as video recording to provide proper insight of the recorded incidents.
Since most of the recorded audio/video footage will be used for evidence or archiving, most BWC are dated, timestamped and include exact GPS coordinates. The combination of all these features make BWCs a powerful tool providing undeniable evidence benefiting the safety of all members of the community.
Since body worn cameras are mostly recording while in motion, BWC’s are equipped with software based image stabilizers to minimize video and photo vibrations while recording.
Different cities have different or no specific policy standards for body worn cameras. A detailed score card of body worn cameras was issued by the leadership conference. For instance, in the report, the city of Dallas police department does not make the policy publicly or readily available. This does not prohibit officers from pre-report viewing, does not make footage available to individuals filing a complaint and limits bio-metric searching of footage. It does however, prohibit from tampering with cameras and footage, as well as unauthorized distribution of BWC footage. The reports provide a wide comparison between major cities worldwide. Further research is necessary to find optimal policies for regulators to standardize the use of body worn cameras. Here is a link to Dallas Police Department Body Worn Cameras Score Card
There are many factors involved in the use of body worn cameras that make regulation important. Besides the indisputable argument of their importance in providing law enforcement oversight, accountability and liability protection, it does record civilians randomly in public. People who are protected by privacy laws. Flagged or UN-flagged video footage recordings can be saved for years with the absence of appropriate retention data policies, which makes unregulated body worn camera usage a concern.
Body worn cameras’ footage are readily available to law enforcement and prosecutors. However, limited access is given to recorded victims or their attorneys. Police have full control of the video database, sharing selectively what they find appropriate at specific times. This defeats the whole purpose of having body worn cameras.
Since some local law enforcement can make their own decisions on what footage to keep, delete or use, the oversight the cameras are meant to provide is circumvented. Police officers at University of Maryland are required wear body cameras. In 2010 they had the privilege of deleting video footage of their accused incidents of beating of students. In other states, police officers claimed that body worn cameras were faulty and were not recording at the time of incidents. Even if footage exists, some local police law enforcement have the right to review the video recording to recall the incident and tailor their own story to match the footage.
Body worn cameras are important tools that can help bring justice for all. Like any other tool, proper training, guidelines and optimal policies are mandatory for accountability and proper use.