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Police: 5 steps to get the most from body-worn cameras

Submitted by scc partner on August 11, 2016

With recent events, there’s a lot of pressure on cities to do something about police accountability. Body-worn cameras are often seen as at least part of the solution. But they are not without complications of their own.

From what you do with all the footage to how you deal with privacy concerns, it’s not just a simple matter of giving cameras to your officers. Make no mistake, as cities like Baltimore have found, body camera programs can work, but you do have to be careful with your deployment. To that end, we’ve asked Council Associate Partner IDC to share its research into the top 5 steps to make body camera programs successful. Use this as a checklist as you develop your own efforts. — Kevin Ebi

By Dr. Alison Brooks, IDC

Interest in police body-worn cameras (BWCs) in the U.S. sky-rocketed in recent years because of a number of high-profile instances of "officers involved shootings" in the country — Ferguson, Chicago, Baltimore — and the resulting social unrest and Black Lives Matter community organizing that placed increasing pressure on police departments to justify their actions and restore faith in policing. Recently, when two officers’ cameras became dislodged in the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, additional questions surfaced about the value of the technology.

Police education and training is clearly needed at this time. From a technology perspective, more than any other law enforcement technology, BWCs have the potential to radically change police interactions with the public. The majority of recent BWC implementations statistically demonstrate that BWC decreases the likelihood of the "use of force" and decreases the number of complaints against police conduct.

For example, one of the first, most thorough, and frequently cited case studies of BWC pilot projects is from Rialto, California, where citizen complaints against police decreased by 90% and use of force declined by 59%. Cost concerns related to storage, and disclosure have also been critically inhibiting factors to adoption.

How can your city take advantage of BWC and avoid the galling issues seen in media recently?

1. Conduct an effective pilot.
Some pilots don’t provide the needed insights because they only test one camera option/vendor or are overly cautious and stringent with their security requirements. Some vendor cameras are far more durable than others, and have established credibility in the market. Pilot programs should assess numerous options, benefits, risks, and failures on a small scale to create valuable lessons learnt for that specific organization.

2. Assess core capabilities in context.
Understand key hardware, software, infrastructure concerns, and practical elements like how the cameras work with the officers’ uniforms. The United States Department of Justice is undertaking a broad "capabilities assessment" baseline study, a useful set of comparable data across vendor solutions.

3. Carefully weigh the costs and benefits of security vis-à-vis affordability.
Cost concerns are top of mind for law enforcement. Spend time carefully assessing deployment models and security constraints, real or imagined. Cloud-based BWC solution costs can be about half to a third of the cost of on-premise BWC storage solutions, with the same or arguably better security.

4. Assess workflow to eliminate bottlenecks.
Many BWC implementations do not proceed because of unforeseen HR costs to manage video redaction, review, and disclosure. Creating the right policy framework can assist with this; policy decisions on redaction and editing can also remove the gatekeeper function for video upload, access, and download. Consider also how the videos will be shared along the justice continuum. In the case of SDPD, for example, video footage was very valuable in court cases regarding traffic violations so they installed network hotspots on the officer's laptops to feed video directly in the courtroom.

5. Cull lessons learnt and other practical resources from other agencies.
Seek out the policy manuals and other collateral from your colleagues and from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). While it may sound slightly mundane, the BWC policy manual is critical and must take into consideration the following six areas: device activation and cessation; privacy and consent; video retention; video review; public and media disclosure; video destruction.

As Research Director Global Government Insights and Smart Cities, Dr. Alison Brooks specializes in public safety related research for the global Smart Cities Strategies program at IDC. She has held a number of positions with IDC over the past 10 years, previously working as IDC Canada’s Director of public sector research. She holds a PhD and MA in Political Science from Queen's University, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Calgary, and has a Project Management Professional (PMP) designation from the University of Toronto, Faculty of Science and Engineering Professional Development Centre.

Smart Cities Readiness Guide…
From the standpoint of the average citizen, public safety is one of the most visible and perhaps most understood of city responsibilities. The public safety chapter of the Council’s Smart Cities Readiness Guide helps you develop your own smart strategies to protect your citizens and measure your progress.

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