Not long ago body-worn cameras (BWC) were considered groundbreaking, and agencies that first implemented them were seen as leading-edge “early adopters.” Now, they have become so ubiquitous that agencies without them are looked at as being behind the times. Several states now mandate that all law enforcement agencies deploy BWCs on their officers.
Early on, body cams were only deployed with officers working in field assignments, but we are now seeing them become more commonplace in correctional facilities as well. There’s no doubt BWCs in law enforcement are here to stay. And while they have enhanced the profession in many ways, they have also created some challenges for the agencies that implement them.
Body-worn cameras have been beneficial for law enforcement in many ways. They have helped dispel false complaints of police misconduct, improved administrative investigations, provided key evidentiary support in criminal investigations, and given a measure of transparency with the community.
But they have also placed an administrative burden on agencies. As with any department-wide program, effective management and maintenance is key. Depending on the size of the agency, this could involve a team of sworn and/or non-sworn staff members or, at minimum, a collateral assignment for an officer. Agencies must consider these staffing hours as an additional cost to their body cam program.
Another cost that sometimes isn’t considered or discussed is data storage. Body-worn cameras generate huge amounts of data that needs to be preserved somewhere—either on premises or in the cloud. Often, it’s not the cameras that are expensive. The big cost is the data storage that is needed to maintain the evidence.
Agencies are paying to store all this BWC data, and yet they do very little with it. While it is true that these videos can help with criminal and administrative investigations, the reality is that less than 1% of the videos are ever reviewed by the agency, which is a missed opportunity for leadership to gain insight into the performance of their officers.
Although we often see poor performance by officers captured on BWCs and subsequently publicized, conversely, and much more frequently, there are some fantastic interactions between officers and the community that go unrecognized. There are thousands of professional, courteous, and empathetic encounters exemplifying the best of the law enforcement profession that are captured on body-worn cameras and are never seen by the public.
So how do agencies discover good officer performance and bad officer performance captured on body camera video? Industry best practice is to conduct audits of videos as part of a BWC program and early identification system, but this presents a challenge for many agencies. Amid severe recruiting and retention difficulties, as well as rising crime rates, department leadership is faced with the choice of diverting valuable human resources to conducting reviews—either full-time or as a collateral duty—or doing fewer (if any) reviews.
My company’s product, Truleo, is an automated body-worn camera review and analysis platform. By leveraging Natural Language Processing (NLP), our technology can process 100% of an agency’s BWC videos in near real-time and provide insights into police-community interactions.
The process works like this:
1. Officers upload their cameras to the agency’s digital evidence management system just as they normally would. No extra steps are needed.
2. Truleo streams the data via an API to our GovCloud-hosted service.
3. The audio is extracted, translated to a written transcript, and analyzed by our proprietary NLP models, which are built by police for police—all within a CJIS compliant environment
4. All data (audio, video, transcripts) and analyses are presented back to the user within the Truleo Scope application.
Through the Scope application, agencies can see the videos that represent the highest risk to the officers and the organization. By identifying elements in the interactions related to detentions, arrests, uses of force, pursuits, and profanity, we assign a risk score to each file. Those files that are highest risk are then surfaced for review by the agency.
The automation of BWC reviews solves several problems for law enforcement agencies. It frees up staff who are conducting these reviews manually to address higher priority assignments, and ensures their valuable time is used only for incidents that need human review.
Our review process also helps identify problems much earlier than traditional early warning systems and solutions. Problematic encounters can be addressed with the officer the very next shift so that timely training and coaching can be administered, helping officers improve and have longer, healthier careers.
Additionally, there is some level of expectation from the community that agencies with a BWC program are reviewing videos. The magnitude of data that is produced, however, makes that near impossible. By automating the process, agencies can confidently tell their community stakeholders that they are reviewing all the interactions between their officers and the community they serve.
Although it’s important to surface risk and address substandard performance, it is just as important to recognize exemplary conduct and measure professionalism. Our model for professionalism allows agencies to see which officers are exhibiting empathy, gratitude, formality (sir, ma’am, Mr., Ms.), asking questions, and providing explanations.
The insights provided by Truleo Scope give agencies the data to show what those of us who are, or have been, in the profession instinctively know: Most interactions between the police and community are neutral/positive and professional, and very few are problematic.
The Seattle Police Department is an early customer of Truleo body-worn camera review solution.
“Truleo has allowed us to reshape how we evaluate quality assurance and risk management, and we’re eager to continue our relationship with them,” said Loren Atherley, director of performance, analytics and research for Seattle PD. “As new technologies emerge to help agencies realize the promise of body worn video data, we have been very pleased with early results.”
Chris Sansone is the director of strategic partnerships at Truleo and a former lieutenant with the Oakland Police Department, where he served for 23 years.