Tuesday, February 8, 2011

While Body Worn Video Expands to More Police Departments, Some Concerns Still Arise

Body worn video for police is garnering more and more press lately.  Departments in Texas, California, and Louisiana and many others, are either in the process of testing body worn cameras, or have implemented several of them in the past few months alone.  These cameras are either attached to officers' ears, worn around the head, or clipped to their uniforms, and are supposed to be a better, more reliable way of gathering evidence than dashboard cameras.
Some of the same debate issues keep coming up in most instances, when it comes to these devices:
Extra equipment may be uncomfortable for the officer. Extremely light-weight and durable cameras make the burden of wearing the equipment as small as possible.  The hope is that the officers will see the absolute benefit of using these devices, and that will counter the "nuisance" of the added bulk. That is also why departments should look to cameras designed by a company with actual police officer experience.  Companies like these know the rigors and challenges that police officers go through.  Ergonomically-designed, head-molding cameras offer the lightest weight and most comfortable options when it comes to body-worn cameras.  (In comparison, some companies' cameras are clipped to the uniform or attached to the ear). And once the officer starts using these types of cameras, most agree that the ease of use and reliability of evidence wins over the "extra" gear.  Officers work in extreme situations every day -- they are used to making the most out of any condition, for the good of their job.
Privacy concerns. These concerns have been raised over and over again.  Yet when complaints surface about overuse of force or misconduct, it comes down to one person's word against another.  The public seems to be overcoming this concern and realizing that the cameras keep the police, as well as the public, accountable for their actions.  Cameras that record into a DVR for playback, rather than submit a live feed, combat these concerns we feel.  It's not like Big Brother is watching our every move. Situations that need to be, are recorded and reviewed for helping in actual crime-related cases.  Plus, officers cannot access the recordings of these most useful body worn video systems.  Instead, the footage is automatically uploaded onto the main system, password-protected, and are unable to be edited after the fact.  GPS tracking appears on all video as well, to show exact location and time of each incident.
Image Quality. Some departments that have tested certain brands of body worn video have discovered fuzzy low-light recording, unsteady footage when an officer is running, and even loss of an earpiece or uniform-clipped piece.  For these reasons, and because exacting recordings are necessary in every environment, it is crucial that departments find the most reliable option.  That is why the camera should be high-definition, equally good in day/night conditions and be securely fitted to the officer.  This is when the headset type shows its value (as it is not as likely to become dislodged, like an ear- or a lapel-clipped camera).  The best solutions also have a back-up camera in the unlikely event that the primary camera does become compromised.  Again, expert developers with real police experience have produced the most effective, useful and reliable camera in the body-worn video market.
So while these concerns are valid - especially if police departments are using an inferior solution, most feel that the age of body worn video is among us, and is a necessary component of public - and police - safety.  And departments are finding that the mere awareness of a body worn camera influences those around it, calming them down.  And isn't that what we hope for in police work? But, when a calm day - or night - on the job, isn't on the docket, it's nice to know a reliable evidence gathering system exists, whatever the scene.

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