They are "designed to be the eyes and ears during police encounters," www.CBSNews.com. Deputies in Orange County California will run a trial with a few body cameras provided free by the manufacturer. "Unlike a dash camera, the body cameras will capture everything that happens once a deputy gets out of his or her vehicle and approaches a suspect or victim with full video and sound," www.WFTV.com
TYPES OF BODY CAMS
- Shirts or lapels
Sometimes called Point-of-View cameras, these high tech devices give the officer's perspective during use of force incidents and record statements made during drug, DUI, or domestic violence cases. Both advantages and concerns have been expressed over the use of body cams in law enforcement.
CONCERNS/WATCHING THE COPS
"A federal judge ordered New York city's police department to begin testing the devices after ruling that its stop, question, and frisk policy was unconstitutional," www.PoliceOne.com. Mayor Bloomberg argued that the body cams are not the answer. He asserted that it would provide fodder to further question police actions and motives. He thought that an officer who failed to record something might be accused of intentionally looking a different direction to avoid proof of the incident.
A helmet camera recorded the response to a plane crash in which a fire rig ran over a survivor at San Francisco International Airport on July 6, 2013, www.SFGate.com. Afterwards, the San Francisco fire chief banned firefighters from using personal cameras until a policy on their use is resolved. Chief Joanne Hayes-White stated that a concern for the privacy rights of firefighters and victims drove the decision. Cameras have also been banned in Houston and Baltimore, www.SFGate.com.
SUPPORT/DOCUMENTING THE INCIDENT
While some departments have concerns about officers being forced to wear body cams, others see it as a way to verify the claims of good officers doing good work. Chief James Brooks of the Laurel, Maryland, Police Department had a video of a traffic stop at his department go viral. Brooks said, "It shows that these guys were actually doing exactly what they were trained and how they were trained to do it...It was flawless," CNN.com.
Some cameras have a feature in which they capture 10 to 30 seconds of video that took place prior to an officer hitting record. This helps to document the unexpected. Officers can play the video when writing reports to accurately log statements and actions. "I think the biggest benefit is to be able to record a crime scene and the people and exactly how they're telling you the information," said Lt. Bob Wood of the Bellevue, Nebraska, Police Department, www.KETV.com.
Departments can also use videotaped incidents for training. Some of what is preserved will not be flattering. "The camera doesn't lie - it just shows what happened," said Arin Pace, a lieutenant with the Jacksonville, Florida, Fire Department, www.SFGate.com.
In Salt Lake City, Police Chief Chris Burbank praises the evidentiary value of helmet-mounted cameras for his motorcycle officers. A speeder may claim that obstructions affected the radar or that the officer was threatening until a video of the violation and interaction is shown in court. "Well, you see very clearly that that car is the only vehicle on the overpass. You now have the radar gun and the digital readout on the radar gun visible in the camera, the car in the background, and you've got a pretty good accounting of what that officer did," www.DeseretNews.com.
Chief Jack Baldwin of the Pigeon Forge Police Department in Tennessee also wants personal cameras for his motorcycle officers. "If you're wearing the camera, you've got your audio and video no matter where you are," www.TheMountainPress.com.
After a series of questionable drug raids, the San Francisco Police Department began equipping plain clothes supervisors with $1,000 chest cams. The allegations of officer misconduct stemmed from security video footage. "We can have a recording of the conversation at the door with regard to consent on consensual entries or the announcement on search warrant entries," Police Chief Greg Suhr said. "The main goal is to capture for purpose of evidence preservation the conversation at the threshold," www.PoliceOne.com.
USE OF FORCE
Chief Burbank of Salt Lake City also argues that video can be crucial in use of force cases. "You see the proximity of what's going on. You see the interplay that takes place and really what the officer's processing," www.DeseretNews.com. It can also be useful in domestic violence cases. The cameras can capture statements and allow officers to accurately transcribe them into reports.
It may be that officers conscious of wearing a camera are more disciplined in their use of language and use of force. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that when police wore personal video cameras in Rialto, California, it "led to an 88 percent drop in complaints against officers and a 60 percent drop in the use of force in a one-year period," www.DeseretNews.com.
More than 400 police departments across the U.S. use high tech body cams. Whether worn on a lapel, eyeglasses, or a helmet, body cameras go wherever law enforcement officers go. Those in favor of body cams claim they will protect citizens and law enforcement officers. Others fear they are another means of monitoring officers and raising liability concerns for agencies.
"I think you are going to find out that once this equipment is out there that our officers are performing in a professional manner and have been all along," said Martin Halloran, President of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, www.DeseretNews.com. Like their predecessors, the dash cams, body cams are likely to grow in popularity across the country.
- Burns, Kenneth, "Pigeon forge police getting new body cameras to wear on shirts/lapels," www.TheMountainPress.com, Feb. 18, 2013.
- CNN video, "Cops Use Eye Cams to Capture Crime," www.CNN.com, August 22,2013.
- Eversley, Melanie and John Bacon, "Judge Rips NYPD Stop-Frisk Policy; City Will Appeal," www.USAToday.com, Aug 12, 2013.
- KETV article, "Bellevue Police Get Another Set of Eyes," www.KETV.com, August 2, 2013.
- Miller, John, "Cop Cams: 400 Police Depts. Use Tiny Devices," www.CBSNews.com, Aug 30, 2013
- Reavy, Pat, "Eye on crime: Police Chief Pushes for Body Cams on Officers," www.DeseretNews.com, Deseret News, Nov. 14, 2012.
- Van Derbeken, Jaxon, "Plainclothes SF Cops Fight Misconduct Allegations with Body Cameras," www.Policeone.com, August 28, 2013.
- Van Derbeken, Jaxon, "SF Fire Chief Bans Helmet Cameras in Wake of Crash," www.SFGate.com, August 19, 2013.
- WFTV, "Orange County Deputies Test Out Body Cameras," www.WFTV.com, Sept. 2, 2013.