Body Cameras: Policing the Police

Posted: February 13, 2015 by SalH in Uncategorized

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As the advances in technology have increased over the last couple of years, video recordings and high resolution pictures are now readily made through handheld devices such as your mobile. With these technical advances the public is now able to record, take pictures, and even instantly upload pictures and videos to social media websites. This new era of video recordings from your phone have given rise to questions regarding police accountability and police interactions with the public. The public now have the ability to record and take pictures of the police while they are on duty and can upload them to millions of viewers. As a result this may lead to public uproar if an officer is caught on tape while in the midst of misconduct. However, these advances are not only available to the public; what if the police recorded their own interactions and records of these were kept and made available when questions of accountability arise.

Given the rise of new technology we see the introduction and usage of body cameras. Body cameras worn by police officers would help eliminate and shed light on topics of police accountability and police deviance while on duty. These cameras, if worn, would be attached to a uniform and will record interactions police have with the public. The emergence of body cameras have increased as the technological era has provided new ways for videotaping. The police are now seen in videos that are not coming from mainstream channels, but from Twitter, YouTube and other social media websites (Goldsmith, 2010). Since the police no longer have control of what is seen by the public, their view is being tarnished and careers possibly jeopardized; liberal senators argue that police should wear cameras as it would enhance the transparency among officers and citizens from accusations and misconduct (Freeze, 2010). Another factor that allows us to consider body cameras were the events concerning the Missouri police in Ferguson, Missouri. Many would ask had the officer been wearing a body camera, would we have seen that event differently. Citizens are reacting, and are possibly afraid of what can occur if evidence is not clear. Gatekeeper Systems Inc. president and chief executive officer Doug Dyment states, the incidents in Missouri “has created significant interest in body-worn cameras for police officers” (Mills, 2014).

Currently the leading brand supplying body cameras is Taser, with their ‘AXON body’ camera. These body cameras are hoping to reduce false accusations of officers and citizens, providing transparency and improving security relations with the public (Mills, 2014). Taser states their body camera is durable, light weight and has many mounting options. It also features a 130 degree lens that can capture much more than the competing brand (Taser, 2015). The camera feature that allows for a wider angle view would definitely be of use as you cannot always axonsee what is happening in the surroundings, and this provides a better argument for officers or citizens in question.

The body camera is easy to use and an officer simply clips it on to his uniform and goes on duty. The camera life lasts for 12 hours, conveniently one shift, and allows for pre-video recording. The body camera records even before the officer records – this feature can be very important for both officers and citizens, as the events leading to an incident are not usually caught on camera –this resulted in a reduction of complaints and lawsuits. Taser reports that studies have shown a decline in complaints by 80 percent (Taser, 2015). If reductions in complaints are dropping, then I believe the body camera may be working. However, we must test these ourselves within our own police forces before we can be completely certain.

After the officer presses record on his body camera the information and video footage is uploaded instantly to a “secure” website developed by Taser. This website allows for the agency to store, share and manage their data captured. I use quotations when I say secure as we have to be skeptical about where this information is going. Taser has created a website for the purposes of officer’s data being retained, but who else gets to see this? There are privacy concerns for all who are recorded. Legal procedural questions are also raised such as, who has access to the recordings? And what happens when an officer’s device ‘mysteriously’ glitches or gets turned off at an inopportune moment (Ortutay, 2014). Also, the website is not a government based website and can easily fall into the hands of online computer ‘experts’. How will we as citizens be certain our information and privacy is not tampered with? Although Taser claims it to be secure we should still be alert. All information collected by officers are uploaded on to a website called Evidence.com, and then can be accessed by officers on a 24/7 basis (Taser, 2015).

See: http://www.taser.com/products/digital-evidence-management/evidence

The Axon body and body cameras in general may likely be the next major installment in policing’s new visibility. A recent study of the Orlando Police Department offering the perceptions of police officers towards body cameras mostly generated positive results. Jennings, (2014) states that police officers appear to be open and willing of accepting and implementing body-worn cameras. Her study on the perceptions of officers is one of the first ever, and provides notable findings. The graph below illustrates the perceptions of wearing body cameras in the Orlando Police Department.chart 1

(Jennings, Fridell, Lynch, 2014 Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezproxy.kwantlen.ca:2080/science/article/pii/S0047235214000853#)

This study provides us valuable information as it demonstrates that police officers are receptive of the idea, and are willing to use body cameras. Jennings et al. (2014) also, questions officers perceptions towards their own behaviour and the findings indicate they assume body cameras will improve other officer’s behaviour to perform “by the book”. They do not believe their own behaviour would change as a result of the body cameras. I find it interesting that officers readily assume others behaviour will vary but how they act will not. It may depend on the fact that they have nothing to hide while on duty or that they are indifferent to the usage of body cameras. Constable Scott Messier of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) provides commentary on his experience with the usage of body cameras in New Brunswick, and he determined that most citizens’ behaviour would either stay the same or suddenly change when they are informed they are being recorded. He also concluded that he became more aware of his interactions with the public and subconsciously improved his behaviour and professionalism (Does body worn video, 2014).

Although the body camera phenomenon seems to have been accepted in the view of police officers, some still do not believe it will make a difference in how officers or citizens act. Pamela Wallin, a Conservative senator, argues that you cannot change a person’s behaviour by simply “strapping cameras to people’s bodies” (Freeze, 2010). Staff Sergeant Scott Warren of the RCMP explains the usage of personal cameras attached to an officer would give rise to many allegations of breaches of privacy. He also states that while some officers may be accepting of such accountability measures, others will be inflexible and may even be offended (Freeze, 2010).

This figure illustrates perceptions towards behaviour change of officers while wearing the body camera.

chart 2

(Jennings, Fridell, Lynch, 2014 Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezproxy.kwantlen.ca:2080/science/article/pii/S0047235214000853#)

We can assume that the usage of body cameras may at first, change the way officers interact with the public, and may even use less force when dealing with them. Not only will the police behave ‘by the book’, citizens may also feel compelled to act in a certain manner. While this new innovation has its pros and cons, it is definitely one to consider as an everyday usage tool by police. I believe it will be a widely discussed topic, and much research will be put into the usage of cameras, and questions regarding privacy and accountability will be considered, however I also feel that as all things may be hyped at the beginning this phenomenon will also lose its spot light, and another form of technology will be introduced. Officers and citizens may change their behaviour knowing they are being recorded and it may reduce conflicts and false accusations, but as the usage of body cameras increases over the years we will become habituated to it and may even resume to prior actions.

References

Does body worn video help or hinder de-escalation? (2014). The Gazette. 76(1). Retrieved from http://www.rcmp-             grc.gc.ca/gazette/vol76no1/discussion-debat-eng.htm

Freeze, C. (2010, Feb 23). Policing. The Globe and Mail (1936-Current) Retrieved from                                       https://ezproxy.kwantlen.ca:2443/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1444698  006?accountid=35875

Goldsmith, A. J. (2010). Policing’s new visibility. British Journal of Criminology, 50(5), 914-934. doi:10.1093/bjc/azq033

Jennings, W.G., Fridell, A., Lynch, M. (2014). Cops and cameras: Officer perceptions of the use of body-worn cameras in law enforcement. Journal of Criminal Justice, 46(6), 549-556. doi:10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2014.09.008

Mills, D. (2014, Oct 07). Picture perfect protection; body cameras, video systems becoming essential for law enforcement across north america. National Post Retrieved from https://ezproxy.kwantlen.ca:2443/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1609247  277?accountid=35875

Ortutay, B. (2014, Aug 22). In Ferguson fallout, calls grow for police to wear ‘body cameras’ – but with caveats. The Canadian Press.

Taser. (2015). Axon body on-officer video. Retrieved from http://www.taser.com/products/on-officer-video/axon-body-on-officer-video

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Comments
  1. Mike Larsen says:

    You have done a great job of framing this debate in relation to Goldsmith’s (2010) discussion of policing’s new visibility. This is the sort of contextualization of emerging issues that I hope to see in a blog post. Great work.

    Your discussion of the privacy implications of body camera footage storage and management systems touches on a number of important issues. The role of a private sector third-party in the management of camera video is worth considering in relation to Brodeur’s (2010) discussion of the police assemblage. Brodeur notes that specialized private technology service providers (for example, Taser) are playing an increasingly important role in the context of everyday public policing. One of the implications of this is the blurring of distinctions between private and public sectors.

    In your discussion of the study by Jennings et al (2014), you note that “I find it interesting that officers readily assume others behaviour will vary but how they act will not.” This is indeed interesting! In reading this study, I am reminded of Westmarland’s work on the ‘Blue Wall of Silence’ and Goldschmidt and Anonymous’ work on ‘the Necessity of Dishonesty’. Do you think that a ‘camera-equipped’ police organization would experience a shift in the ‘blue wall’ aspect of its internal culture?

    Generally, this is an excellent post, and a welcome contribution to the blog.