The face of policing in the United States has been changing over the last decade thanks to the increased deployment of advanced technology. The use of city-wide video surveillance networks in collaboration with urban businesses, schools and healthcare facilities have provided a model for public/private partnerships in reducing crime and promoting public safety. Digitally-enhanced 911 systems are bringing sophisticated emergency communication applications to officers in the field to help them be proactive in crime prevention, and local law enforcement agencies are becoming adept at fighting cybercrime and other computer-based attacks by using artificial intelligence and other data analytics.

However, no law enforcement technology tool has received as much attention or scrutiny in 2020 as body-worn cameras (BWCs). These compact, rugged cameras have proved potentially transformational as a tool for better police procedures by creating video records of how both the police and the community respond to incidents and encounters.

A survey conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) out of Washington D.C. in April 2018 entitled, Cost and Benefits Of Body-Worn Camera Deployments {1}, was one of the largest and most comprehensive surveys to date of law enforcement agencies regarding their deployments of body-worn cameras. This survey revealed a number of important findings:

  • It found that more than one-third of American law enforcement agencies have already deployed BWCs to some or all of their officers, and another 50% currently have plans to do so.
  • It found that a large majority of departments with BWCs are happy with them, and more than 85% of them would recommend them to other police agencies.
  • There was a variation in how widely agencies have deploy BWCs within the department. More than 40% of agencies reported that they have given BWCs to all sworn officers, but some agencies have made only partial deployments. For example, three agencies that PERF studied more closely had only equipped a fraction of their police force with BWCs: 10% of officers in Phoenix; 30% of officers in Dallas; and 44% in Mesa, AZ.
  • It found that for most agencies, the cost of BWCs are quite low – approximately $5,000 a year or less. (However, the costs are low because most police departments either have a small number of officers, or they are only deploying BWCs to someof their officers.
  • The survey also found that the most important reason given for adopting BWCs, by over nine in 10 agencies, was to promote accountability, transparency, and legitimacy.

While this survey demonstrated that the objectives of law enforcement and public safety agencies have a strong desire to build trust and foster relationships with their communities, the concept of BWC technology is not a solution for every community issue. However, proponents of body-worn cameras are adamant that the benefits are certainly quantifiable.

A recent research piece, Body-worn cameras: What the evidence tells us {2}, completed by the National Institute of Justice, points to five major benefits BWCs may offer law enforcement, including:

  • Better transparency. Body-worn cameras may result in better transparency and accountability. Video footage captured during officer-community interactions might provide better documentation to help confirm the nature of events and support accounts articulated by officers and community residents.
  • Increased civility. Body-worn cameras may also result in higher rates of citizen compliance to officer commands during encounters and fewer complaints lodged against law enforcement. Citizens often change their behavior toward officers when they are informed that the encounter is being recorded. This may prevent certain situations from escalating to levels requiring the use of force and also improve interactions between officers and citizens.
  • Quicker resolution. Body-worn cameras may lead to a faster resolution of citizen complaints and lawsuits. Investigations of cases that involve inconsistent accounts of the encounter, from both the officers and citizens, are often found to be “not sustained” and are subsequently closed when there is no video footage nor independent or corroborating witnesses. Video captured by body-worn cameras may help corroborate the facts of the encounter and result in a quicker resolution.
  • Corroborating evidence. Footage captured may also be used as evidence in arrests or prosecutions. Proponents have suggested that video captured by body-worn cameras may help document the occurrence and nature of various types of crime, reduce the overall amount of time required for officers to complete paperwork for case files, corroborate evidence presented by prosecutors, and lead to higher numbers of guilty pleas in court proceedings.
  • Training opportunities. The use of body-worn cameras also offers potential opportunities to advance policing through training. Law enforcement trainers and executives can assess officer activities and behavior captured by body-worn cameras through self-initiated investigations or those that result from calls for service. Finally, video footage can provide law enforcement executives with opportunities to implement new strategies and assess the extent to which officers carry out their duties in a manner that is consistent with the assigned initiatives.

What About the Technology?

When it comes to technology deployment, law enforcement officials look for BWCs that are lightweight, comfortable to wear, and offer adequate battery life. Beyond that, many officers relinquish technical issues to the IT personnel at their departments when it comes to storage and retrieval.

When the Phoenix Police Department (PPD) asked its officers what BWC features they thought were most useful, they were insistent that the recording indicator be visible in the field, and that they have the ability to view recently recorded video footage onsite. They also wanted a wide field of vision in the area of 50 degrees. Additionally, the department wanted officers to have the ability to turn off any available night vision function and to be able to place the device at several locations, including the ear, shoulder and lapel. Finally, there could not be more than two wires on the BWC, and it would need to have the capacity to automatically label video files with the date and time of the recording. The PPD tested different camera models and the findings showed officers found camera features like the pre-record option on some cameras, which retains 30 seconds of video prior to an officer activating a recording, confusing. Many officers found this option to be a liability, according to a 2015 report evaluating the impact of BWCs {3}.

The spokesman for the major midwestern police agency stated: “Current BWC technology is largely intuitive and easy to deploy. The BWC requires only minimal training, because so little is expected of the officer, specifically to record video and dock the BWC daily to upload and charge. The pain points fall largely upon IT staff to deploy and maintain BWC inventory for records section personnel to review, redact, and share BWC video, and for Prosecutors to be able to watch all of the recorded agency video before trial.”

In response to these defined parameters and input from numerous law enforcement agencies, Panasonic i-PRO is introducing the next generation of BWC technology. The company’s new BWC4000 body-worn camera is built on Panasonic i-PRO’s tradition of high-performance video technology and features a unique 12-hour field-swappable battery designed for long deployments. The BWC4000 is also IP67 / MIL-STD-810H rated to provide officers in the field with a more reliable way to capture video and audio evidence in nearly any condition.

To ensure high quality images for incident documentation and evidence, the BWC4000 records in 1080p, 720p and 360p, ensuring crystal-clear video clarity that accelerates convictions in court, and can be activated via wireless LAN or Bluetooth from a variety of triggers. The new BWC4000 also seamlessly integrates with Panasonic i-PRO’s Unified Digital Evidence management software, Arbitrator in-car video systems, and i-PRO surveillance cameras to form a unified evidence management platform that preserves the chain of custody.

Finishing with Best Practices for BWCs

Before any BWC technology is selected and procured by an agency, establishing some basic best practices for policy and procedures is a must. Our midwestern police department spokesman refers to his PPCP acronym, which is:

  • Planning – Review IACP / PERF / DOJ toolkit material, read peer reviewed research, and canvas other agencies for best practices related to BWC deployment
  • Preparation – Spend a lot of time and resources training on the use of BWCs to ensure officers are comfortable and knowledgeable on their operation
  • Collaboration – Involve as many agency and community stakeholders as possible, including prosecutors, defense counsel, judges, the public, media, and officer union to address potential issues and concerns related to BWC deployment
  • Process – Refine through testing before BWC deployment to eliminate most, if not all, ‘Day 2’ disasters, helping to ensure that the program meets expectations at launch

He concluded by adding that there are a lot of good programs and policies across U.S. law enforcement agencies related to BWC deployment. It is a useful exercise to read more about them to better understand the positive impact BWCs can have on both law enforcement agencies and the public good.

Rob Thompkins, National Sales Manager

Rob has over 20 years’ experience in assisting State and Local government customers with their purchase and deployment of mobile data computer and in-car video solutions.  Prior to joining i-PRO, Rob was responsible for managing the domestic and international solution sales efforts for two other companies in the public safety solutions market.

Rob’s prior experience is in Law Enforcement with the Crestwood, Missouri Police Department, serving as the Deputy Chief of Police.  He commanded the Enforcement Division of the police department, with additional responsibilities of management of the city computer network, to include mobile data computer operations.