FREE e-Newsletter
Important News - Hot Topics
Get them Now!

DrugTest 5000 - Draeger Safety Diagnostics Inc
In the past, roadside drug screening has been difficult because it involved the...

Exclusive Webinar!

Originally aired: June 17, 2014  ● 2PM EST

View Webinar Archive Here

Integrated Law Enforcement Complements and Completes Law Enforcement Capabilities

Discover how the combination of intelligence analysis, lead generation, agency collaboration, and communications integration can help you uncover issues faster and take action sooner. Learn how innovative IBM law enforcement solutions can extend the capabilities within your organization to deal with new and emerging threats, improve officer safety, reduce criminal activity, and protect the public. 

Join IBM industry expert Stephen Dalzell and members from the MDPD, IT and homeland security departments of the Miami Dade police department to hear more!

Click here to view archive

 

Cover Story

On-Body Video: Eye Witness or Big Brother?

Officer-worn video technology is coming of age, but will agencies and officers embrace it and use it properly?

July 08, 2013  |  by - Also by this author

Photo by Mark W. Clark.
Photo by Mark W. Clark.
In contemporary American law enforcement, whatever you do, you're probably doing it on video. Just about every hand-held phone doubles as a video recorder. And anyone with an Internet connection can post video on YouTube and Facebook.

So it's not unusual to see headlines that read, "Police Deny Using Excessive Force," the day after an incident when the local TV news is showing a citizen's video of a violent police arrest. This story can happen anywhere, in any town, to any agency.

It happened in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, Ariz., in early June. However, this time there was a twist. This time, the police department responded to the media with a statement and a video of its own. The arresting officer wore a TASER Axon Flex on-officer video camera.

Capturing the action from the point of view of the officer, the video showed a clearly aggressive suspect, who appeared to take a fighting stance, charge at the officer, and throw a punch. Viewers of the evening news now had a better video to judge the officer's actions. If not for that on-officer video, a tide of public outrage may have swelled against the officers of the Mesa PD. Instead, the story's balance helped check public outrage.

The era of on-officer video has arrived. The technology is poised to help keep officers safer and more accountable on the job, while protecting law enforcement agencies from nuisance lawsuits.

Videos of officers in action are nothing new. The 1960s ushered in the era of police officers on the television news. Unrest in the Civil Rights-era south, and later in northern and western cities, left the public with images of police officers with raised nightsticks and water cannons. Since then, news videos have often been used to level criticism and even charges of excessive force against officers.

Video systems became widely available to capture real-time policing in the 1980s to document drunk driving. Agencies installed these early VCR-based analog "dash cam" systems in cruisers.

Though laughably primitive by today's standards, analog dash cams gave the public a new perspective on police work. Unfortunately, they often missed the action when the officer moved out of the camera's field of view. A physical confrontation between a suspect and an officer often moved out of frame for the finish.

Beyond the Cameras

Law enforcement administrators have long known that what happens out of the dash cam's view can be more important than what the eye sees. The need to capture the entire incident, not just the part that happened in view of the in-car cameras, gave birth to body-worn video.

About 10 years ago, engineers at Scottsdale, Ariz.-based TASER International began looking for a way to enable officers to record videos outside of the car. According to Steve Tuttle, vice president of communications for TASER, the TASER training staff would often be frustrated by stationary videos that lost the critical action of a TASER deployment when it happened off camera. Tuttle says this was a "gee whiz" moment for the company.

TASER's first solution was the TASER Cam — a small video camera that attached to the TASER X26. Releasing the safety activated the recording. The TASER Cam almost fixed the problem. Videos clearly showed the events leading up to the deployment, but they showed pavement when the TASER was lowered post deployment. TASER introduced its first Axon on-body system in 2009. Three years later, TASER brought out the head-mounted Axon Flex.

TASER is not unique in its vision of body-worn video for officers. VidMic was first to market with a body-worn system specifically designed for officers in the early 2000s, followed by Vievu. Panasonic, Digital Ally and others have entered the market since Axon's introduction.

When considering body-worn video systems, departments need to look beyond the hardware. Video files need to be stored, tracked, and managed to meet retention policies. Files need to be secured to meet strict rules of evidence. Videos need to be shared with prosecutors and defense attorneys during the discovery process.

Agencies must realize that video files require expensive server storage to keep evidence on site. VieVu and TASER offer cloud storage and file management solutions as an alternative. Cloud storage offers highly secure storage at a cost that could be prohibitive for budget-strapped agencies. An hour of video can require up to a gigabyte of hard-drive space. If tens or even hundreds of officers make videos every shift, you can see how data files add up quickly.

Most law enforcement agencies have procedures in place that cover the handling of digital media. A generally accepted practice is to burn the digital evidence onto a CD or DVD and impound it in the property room. There, it is cataloged, tracked, and made available for court. Under this system, digital files take up real estate in the evidence room. Staff must impound and catalog the disks, check them out of evidence, carry them to court, and dispose or archive them when the case is adjudicated.

TASER's cloud-based Evidence.com is one of the most sophisticated video storage solutions available for agencies using on-body video. Evidence.com eliminates the need for on-site storage space by storing the files off-site and allowing agencies to share the files via secure access to the server. Prosecutors can simply log into a remote portal and get the videos they need for their cases. And Evidence.com goes beyond shared access; the system tracks every activity associated with every file and stores it in an audit log.

Video storage and evidence management on site is expensive and difficult to implement. So if a department considers every aspect of making and managing video evidence, it may conclude that a full software and storage package is the most economical solution. Smaller agencies with smaller deployments may choose to keep the systems they have in place.

Many departments implemented policy decisions when acquiring earlier-generation video systems that will now need revising.

Body-worn cameras bring up new challenges because they're always present in an officer's personal space. That makes some officers uncomfortable, because they may not be on their best behavior at all times.

Most officers have no trouble acting professional when in the public eye or speaking to a citizen, but they may not want everything recorded outside of those encounters. And police labor organizations have objected to departments mandating that their members wear cameras. This "big brother" issue may be the biggest consideration for when and how the video cameras are used. It affects the officers, supervisors, and the evidence managers.

Side Effects

TASER's Tuttle recently sat down with representatives of police supervisors and unions for a frank discussion. Rank-and-file officers most often said they didn't want to get into trouble for something that they said on video. Specifically, the officers worried that command staff would monitor their language and object to F-bombs they used to accentuate their points when under stress. The supervisors said that they weren't interested in the occasional F-bomb. They said they were more interested in keeping officers safe and accountable, and they want better documentation of critical incidents.

Cameras can be used as a "gotcha" for an officer, but most officers and supervisors also see the benefit of having a first-person video recording of what happens during a confrontation or critical response. During the Mesa PD's rough arrest, the Axon Flex camera did capture the officer dropping a few F-bombs. However, the focus of the incident revolved around the officer's eyewitness point of view—the punch that knocked the camera off his head. In this case, the camera did exactly what it was deployed to do.

When developing policies for body-worn video systems, police managers must decide whether they will require officers to record all encounters or leave it up to the officer's discretion to activate the system. They must also set retention schedules based on the type of recorded incident. These policies will shape how the cameras are perceived on the force and determine their effectiveness.

Officer-worn cameras represent the pinnacle of transparency in law enforcement. For that reason, even civil liberties advocates like them.

A typical complaint starts with an accusation of wrongdoing and a denial by the officers. On-body video systems offer an unedited and unbiased account that protects the officer and the citizen's civil liberties. That's why the ACLU has publicly endorsed the cameras, saying transparency leads to public trust and trust benefits the community.

Some video systems, such as the TASER Axon Flex, include a buffer that captures video with no audio of the 30 seconds preceding activation. This "pre event" information protects the officer and agency from unfounded complaints and lawsuits.

Because use-of-force complaints often fall after an agency implements on-body cameras, agency leaders have been quick to embrace this technology. This was an unexpected but understandable side effect, when you consider that behavior often improves under a watchful eye.

Despite some officers' reluctance to embrace the technology, most experts agree that body-worn video cameras are here to stay in law enforcement. In a world where almost every citizen has a smartphone camera that can record you on the job, you need a video that turns the tide of public opinion to your side.

On-officer cameras are poised to become as much a part of policing as a pen and notepad. The technology will only get better and cost less. When you consider the amount of money spent investigating complaints and defending claims of wrongdoing, the cost of the systems comes into perspective. Agencies considering these systems have to look beyond the cost of the actual equipment and see the importance of developing solid policies for when to use the cameras and how to store, manage, share, and retain the digital files.

Mark Clark is a 27-year veteran police sergeant. He has served as public information officer, training officer, and as supervisor for various detective and patrol squads.

Tags: On-Body Video, Mesa (Ariz.) PD, Use-of-Force Policies, Social Media


Comments (9)

Displaying 1 - 9 of 9

Dr. R. Hillsman, M.D. @ 7/10/2013 4:23 AM

Good article. Really get nervous when i see the # of cords now worn around officers' neck and for that reason alone prefer body cameras At ~ low chest level. (in my day the clip on tie was all we were allowed to have as a potential strangulation weapon). The body, wide angle, high resolution cameras do so much to help officers file reports after long physical chases (car or foot) and often provide significant info for the resultant investigation-also will soon solve an LEO ambush murder by a perp. The cameras that beam info to a cloud reservoir are most important for this reason-perp can't take it off officer and destroy evidence as its 'in the cloud' BLUES STAY SAFE- CAMERAS CAN BE UR FRIEND..Dr. Bob Hillsman-trauma ctr. M.D.(ret. LEO)

Izzy @ 7/10/2013 7:13 AM

It's funny how police officers have cameras all around them and on them but nobody notices, or people do stupid things anyway when they see the camera.

mike @ 7/12/2013 6:20 AM

Looks uncomfortable as hell. Why not have a Go Pro mounted on a miner's helmet?

Terry @ 7/12/2013 12:13 PM

Great article!

Dr. Hillsman makes an excellent point about cordage worn around officers these days. I have become concerned about cords, especially around the officer's neck.

I wear my speaker mic clipped on my shirt at mid chest and plan to get a body worn video system. I will choose one that is self contained (with no cords) and worn mid chest or on my shirt pocket.

One other manufacturer known as Pivothead makes a very nice camera/video system that is made into a pair of sunglasses. The video it shoots is just spectacular. I may give them a try as well.

Be safe!

Lee Tracey @ 4/14/2014 3:58 AM

The headcam unit with a cable down to a belt or sleeve main unit has already seen trouble in the UK and is "technically" banned by the UK Home Office as a Rural UK Officer was nearly strangled by the cord. The headcam and cable comes from the extreme sports world and is fine there but law enforcement officers who are often involved in physical encounters with dangerous criminals the cable is an absolute NO-NO. High quality one-piece chest mounted units are available. The UK MET police ( Scotland Yard ) have just "acquired" 500 Taser headcam units with a resolution of 640 X 580 - virtually useless and a waste of time and money. The MET argue that they are for SO19 ( firearms units) and that with arms both extended and a pistol gripped then the chest mounted camera would be blocked. At this moment (2014) the UK body worn evidence camera for police market is suspect and a mire of bent deals and delivery of rubbish.

Joe @ 10/20/2014 2:36 PM

Some very cogent points made here. Firstly, I agree that on body cameras are not going anywhere anytime soon – They seem to be a generally well liked addition to the uniform by both the community and those in law enforcement. They are certainly a useful tool for both the re-examination of an incident, and as a builder of police-community relations. Cameras don’t lie, and if the police can present video evidence to dispute allegations of excessive force, it will bring a new and urgently needed level of trust to law enforcement. There will always the problem of the officer being the one to choose when to turn on the camera, however, many departments are making it so that the camera is always on. I feel that this is a necessary aspect of the cameras - the resulting uproar of allegations of police brutality will only be exacerbated if an officer has not begun to record before an incident like we had in Ferguson this August.

Joe @ 10/20/2014 2:36 PM

If an interaction with a civilian goes south and the officer hasn’t time to turn on their camera, then people may draw the conclusion that this was done on purpose. It would seem that, there can’t feasibly be cameras rolling 24/7 on every officer; there doesn’t seem to be anyplace to efficiently store all of that data. However, government contracts are very desirable, and competition breeds low prices and good products and services. It is my hope that a solution to this problem will be reached in the near future. You also bring up the issue of invasion of privacy, and this is an important matter. people in America, especially those in places like NYC and LA, are more and more beginning to feel as though they are constantly under the eye of “big brother,” especially after the recent veto on the bill in California requiring warrants for drone deployment, however I feel that this is one instance where everyone will be happy to have a camera rolling.

EssJayEss @ 10/28/2014 11:16 AM

I agree that body cameras are not going anywhere. Not only because they are a good addition to the policing community but because it is an excellent way for officers to cover their backsides. Although body cameras are an expensive investment, ranging from $120- $2,000 a piece for each camera, they are definitely a good idea. Especially with all of the recent controversy over police using excessive/ brutal force. Body cameras lend support to the idea that there will be a more effective way of determining what really goes on between a officer and citizen interaction when there are no witnesses to the interaction itself. Most confusion occurs because it is usually the officers word versus the citizens word. The use of body cameras eliminates the possibility of deception when a situation occurs. Most hostility towards police on the citizens part is because they feel as if they were done wrong by police. With the use of body cameras it would give citizens and police both a chance to.....

EssJayEss @ 10/28/2014 11:17 AM

analyze the situation and possibly think of ways things could have been done differently. This brings me to the next point that although body cameras are a good idea, citizens may not feel comfortable being recorded by police or possibly not even knowing they are being recorded. According to Dr. Michael White, author of the Justice Department's report on police and body-mounted cameras, in the long run body cameras pose a threat on citizen privacy. Dr. White explains how body cameras are a good idea but strict guidelines would have to be put into place to protect witnesses and police. Even though some citizens may feel their privacy are in jeopardy by the use of body cameras the possibility that body cameras will reduce crime and possibly make our country a safer place to live is something to think about.

Join the Discussion





POLICE Magazine does not tolerate comments that include profanity, personal attacks or antisocial behavior (such as "spamming" or "trolling"). This and other inappropriate content or material will be removed. We reserve the right to block any user who violates this, including removing all content posted by that user.

Other Recent Stories

Throwing Tech at the Problem
There are plenty of great products and services that help law enforcement embrace...
How to Start a Body Camera Program
Those who have succeeded in implementing wearable evidence capture programs say agencies...

Get Your FREE Trial Issue and Win a Gift! Subscribe Today!
Yes! Please rush me my FREE TRIAL ISSUE of POLICE magazine and FREE Officer Survival Guide with tips and tactics to help me safely get out of 10 different situations.

Just fill in the form to the right and click the button to receive your FREE Trial Issue.

If POLICE does not satisfy you, just write "cancel" on the invoice and send it back. You'll pay nothing, and the FREE issue is yours to keep. If you enjoy POLICE, pay only $25 for a full one-year subscription (12 issues in all). Enjoy a savings of nearly 60% off the cover price!

Offer valid in US only. Outside U.S., click here.
It's easy! Just fill in the form below and click the red button to receive your FREE Trial Issue.
First Name:
Last Name:
Rank:
Agency:
Address:
City:
State:
  
Zip Code:
 
Country:
We respect your privacy. Please let us know if the address provided is your home, as your RANK / AGENCY will not be included on the mailing label.
E-mail Address:

Police Magazine