Following the police shooting of Michael Brown in Missourri, media and public attention focused on conflicting witness statements about what happened during that tragic encounter. The lack of clarity has spurred many to press for an increase in the use of body-worn video cameras by police, and our profession is responding quickly and appropriately.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police has published a model policy while the Police Executive Research Forum produced an analysis of the state of the technology. Both of these documents provide guidance as law enforcement chief administrators face decisions on if and how to deploy camera systems.
Here in Gulfport, we are ahead of the game, so to speak. Police officers have been using body-worn cameras for about five years. I initiated the program as a cheaper alternative to the expensive systems we had been installing in patrol cars. The body cameras cost about one fifth of what the in-car systems sell for. Primarily, they have been used by officers who are assigned vehicles that do not have in-car camera systems. We also issue them to school resource officers for the purpose of recording any physical interactions with students. So far, we have had some pretty good results, and I am not aware of any negative impacts on the officers or the people being recorded.
Our policy on the deployment and use of these camera systems was last updated in 2013. To be prudent, I have decided to put it up for review again, this time in consideration of the PERF and IACP publications, as well as input from the community we serve. To the latter, I recently attended a retreat with representatives from local law enforcement, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Christian League of Councils. The purpose of the meeting was to open an ongoing dialogue on how our communities might be best served by police use of field-recording technology.
While I support the goal of this group, I think it is also important to consider the input of the public we serve. To that end, I invite any and all to contact me with your ideas on this subject. Currently some of the most important decisions to make include the following:
- Should we require all on duty officers to wear a body camera, or should we continue leaving it an optional tool for them to use at their own discretion?
- Should we require officers with body cameras to record all official conduct, some specific types of conduct, or should they have discretion over what they record?
- Should we require officers to inform people when they are being recorded?
Each of these, of course, has pros and cons. A “record everything” policy, for example, could be extremely burdensome in terms of the workload associated with retrieving and storing the video. The storage costs would also become very expensive very quickly. Also, I’d hate to ask officers to focus on operating the camera when they’re dealing with potentially dangerous situations. We also have to consider the impact that such a policy might have on our ability to get confessions, or more importantly, victim statements. At this point, we just don’t know how people will react if they know that everything they say to a police officer will be recorded.
My plan is to have an updated policy in effect by the New Year. If you have any suggestions or comments, please let me know. firstname.lastname@example.org