Blue Line

Body Worn Cameras – STUDIES MAY DECIDE

October 15, 2013  By Robert Lunney

611 words – MR

Studies may decide

Body worn video – The next big thing

by Robert Lunney


The Washington DC based Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and the Office of Community Oriented Police (COPS Office) of the US Justice Department jointly hosted a conference on police adoption of body worn video cameras last September. The purpose was to assemble experience and opinion to assist in developing a model policy applying to this rapidly evolving technology.

A long list of issues and implications for governance and management of body worn devices was on the table, including funding, ethics, policy, legal issues, human rights, product selection, positioning of equipment, evidence handling and data storage. There are implications for public complaints, supervision and internal discipline. Researchers are questioning the impact on the behaviour of both officers and subjects.

Technology selection is a key concern. It seems certain that technology will improve and costs decline as the market grows. Clearly, a decision to adopt body worn video is not to be taken lightly.

The best research and experiential evidence thus far resides with the U.K. and its penchant for evidence-based study. An increasing number of U.S. departments large and small are either testing or installing systems, while in Canada, Calgary, Edmonton and Amherstburg ON police are among the early adopters.

The chief of Rialto CA presented research findings from one-year of experience. Rialto is a mid-sized department with jurisdiction of over 28.5 square-miles, a population of 100,000 residents and 115 sworn officers. All frontline officers participated in the experiment, which began in February 2012 and ran for a year.

Researchers designated an experimental group to wear the cameras and a control group, which did not. Notably, public complaints were dramatically down for officers wearing body cams and findings suggest more than a 50 per cent reduction in the total number of incidents of use-of-force by the experimental group compared to the control group.

Optimum positioning of equipment is key to obtaining the best images. The best results viewed at the conference were produced by cameras worn over the ear or clipped to eyeglass frames, with chest mounted cameras another option. Cams mounted on the epaulet were the least effective.

Initial cost, maintenance and image storage presents a formidable funding challenge and one that each jurisdiction will have to approach from its own circumstances. Data storage requirements can quickly overwhelm without an effective retention policy.

As reported by CBC on August 19, 2013, Calgary police will store footage for a minimum of 13 months and up to 25 years depending on the investigation. One private sector contractor offers remote storage at a cost but it is not clear if this ensures an acceptable level of security, continuity of possession and proof of ownership.

Police unions and associations are keenly concerned about protection of officer’s rights and apprehensive about changes to working conditions. Based on preliminary North American experience, both officer and association response is positive, perhaps influenced by a reduction in public complaints and confidence in capturing best evidence. The reaction in the U.K. is similar.

Prosecutors, the defense bar and judges are likely to welcome evidence from body cams and rights advocates and the general public will favour adoption as a step towards transparency and accountability. The public is remarkably accepting of routine video surveillance in both private and public space.

Widespread adoption of body worn cameras by front line police seems inevitable. What is troubling at this early stage is the lack of comparative research, particularly Canadian research, for there are many questions yet to be settled definitively – but hey, somebody has to pioneer. Good for the early adopters on both sides of the border.

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