Implications of Body-Worn Cameras

Implications of Body-Worn Cameras

Law Enforcement Body-Worn Cameras

Body-worn Cameras or BWCs have seen a dramatic increase in use by law enforcement officers and agencies in the United States and Internationally. These cameras are changing the scope and practices of policing. The footage from these devices, both audio and video, are viewed and scrutinized by the public, news media sources, and other government agencies. Even with the scrutiny of specific police actions, most people think that the use of BWCs has the benefit of increased legitimacy and accountability for officers, law enforcement agencies, and citizens.

There are currently over 60 different types of body-worn cameras explicitly produced for use by law enforcement agencies. These commercially available BWCs have flooded the market with a variety of options. Most BWC cameras include a microphone as well as an internal data storage system. With compatible software, the audio and video footage can later be stored and analyzed. Generally, most BWCs are made to wear on the officers’ shirts near their chest or attached to their heads.

The Necessity of Real-Time Surveillance

After the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland, body-worn cameras have been pushed into national attention. There were discrepancies in the accounts of these incidents between the public perception of events and the reports presented by law enforcement officers. These differences have created a public outcry and demand that all police officers be outfitted with BWCs. Citizens and the media believe that the regulated and mandatory use of these recording devices will help resolve the truth behind police-involved incidents and provide both transparency and legitimacy of law enforcement. There is a perception by the general public that the use of BWCs will solve several problems. The audio and video record of incidents will demonstrate an improved behavior for both police officers and citizens; it will expedite transparency and resolutions to complaints and lawsuits and provide opportunities for enhanced police training. The evidence collected can also improve court evidence of criminal behaviors, arrests, and prosecution of those violating the law. With such public support for the use of BWCs, there has been both an increase in usage and content from these cameras presented at court trials to use criminal justice. There has also been an increase in FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests by the public and media attention regarding footage of incidents and cameras.

Cost Considerations

There are cost considerations for all police departments, as they work on stretching their budgets set by local and county governments. The costs for a single camera can range from $199 to $2000. Some of the varied price differences are due to the camera’s capabilities. BWCs can record and hold 8GB of data and others as much as 64GB, while the range of video resolution on cameras varied from 576 pixels to 5MP. The view field for cameras changed from 45 degrees to 175 degrees while battery life went from 8 hours to 216 hours. Recording battery life ranged as well from 2.5 hours to 23 hours.

With this extensive range of capabilities, departments must learn about the differences so that their officers can effectively use cameras. It may be a good idea to buy a variety of cameras, as the cheaper cameras help save money, but the more expensive ones could be used for special assignments or for those who do longer shifts. The department should also have policies and procedures in place to make the cameras useful. If the officer never turns it on, then there will be an outcry from the public if there is an incident that they cannot explain their actions.

Data Security and Management

The data gathered by law enforcement body-worn cameras must be held to department policies that limit those who have access to the footage. Like all other evidence, BWC data must be monitored, access limited, and the chain of custody requirements met, just as the department would handle any forensic evidence. A separate list of policies and technical procedures must be followed by BWC data to ensure that privacy rights are upheld.

A plan for using all data gathered by BWCs should be implemented and structured before collecting any data. Throughout the forensic process, various people will need access to the data to complete their investigations. There are numerous reasons why specific individuals would have access to law enforcement BWC data. Those who have appropriate clearances or their job requires them to view the video to investigate crimes. Law enforcement agencies use the footage to prosecute and charge criminals and solve citizen complaints regarding officer behavior.

Internal affairs officers have been known to use BWC data for investigations, internal audits, training, and new policies and procedures. Video data can also support formal and informal evaluations or reviews for officers on how well they are doing their job, staying within guidelines, and showing initiative. To be able to locate the relevant footage for the varied uses, suggestions have been made for developing software to mine the data or create searchable databases of faces and voices. If this gets made, artificial intelligence could locate specific data in an instant versus several hours.

Privacy and Legal Implications

Since BWC data is used to convict criminals in the court of law, there are many legal implications regarding the handling and processing of the data. Most law enforcement agencies have set policies regarding who has access to the footage and under what circumstances the data can be viewed. Many departments agree that an officer should not have access to BWC data shot by other officers unless working together to solve a crime or other duties. Supervisors, shift officers, and other administrative officers may have access to footage that is shot on their watch or to review officers that serve in their departments.

There can be times when supervisory officers may review BWC footage to investigate a citizen’s complaint regarding police misconduct. The investigation can be a formal or informal review, help determine the degree of truth behind the criticism, and give the supervisor an idea of whether it warrants charges or additional training. There can also be times when courts, government officials, prosecutors, inspectors, and even city auditors may need to have access to review the data from BWC footage. It can also be forwarded with the Office of Police Complaints.

The footage should be as carefully handled as forensic evidence. The BWC data can have an impact on prosecutors choosing to file a case, defending officers, or there could be other potential needs from various criminal and civil law offices to handle their issues. Before sharing video, law enforcement agencies should verify the local court systems’ capabilities and how they will be shared and protected. In the end, any violation of individuals’ privacy on the footage falls on the department’s responsibility. The responsibility goes without saying when sharing the BWC data with defense attorneys and internal review boards. Citizens included in the video footage, and even those filing complaints against officers have the right to review the film. However, in distributing the data, maintaining the privacy of personally identifiable information falls back on the department.

Police departments can take control of the sensitive data or personally identifiable information in their footage to redact that information before sharing it. Just as businesses are required to protect sensitive data and can face penalties for failure to comply with privacy legislation, the same penalties and legal issues impact police departments.

Since law enforcement agencies are held liable for losing private data, understanding and controlling data flow is crucial. There are complex issues with data management, storage, and allowing access to stored data. Police departments should work closely with privacy professionals to step through the data lifespan to understand all the potential risks, how to create policies that will work, and to understand the risks and penalties fully for violations of privacy. Data held by a company or police department has a lifespan—when the data is created, ending with a time in which it is destroyed. Examples of steps of the data lifespan for video footage produced by BWCs are easy to follow and create specific rules during each phase of its creation and use. BWC footage must first be made during an incident; it is then downloaded from the camera into the primary database. The information is then cataloged within the database, stored securely, and accessed by authorized personnel or other individuals. Then, generally, based on a set timeline, the data is permanently destroyed.

When a department chooses a process to secure the data during its lifespan, many challenges such as data storage costs, hardware, software, and even personnel time can come across as a challenge. If employees use a redaction process to obscure personally identifiable data, are trained to use standardized software and a data analysis system, they can cut costs dramatically for departments. It also allows for a quick turnaround on data that needs to be processed and access granted.

Redaction Solutions

CaseGuard is a global leader in automated redaction software and privacy solutions. Designed by police for police, CaseGuard software system understands the needs of police departments. It provides many features that can help departments manage data and keep forensic records that can verify all those who access, test, alter, or create the data. The video redaction software has many automated features that can be set up by the department. Features such as the automatic face, license plate, and computer screen redaction are processes that can be done at the time the data is created.

The system features object tracking and automated redaction of the defined data point. This feature is beneficial for officers who could be involved in tracking a criminal or following a vehicle’s movement. Since the software is designed for police departments, it has many features that allow for the processing of a variety of data files and comprehensive forensics and evidence systems that can be presented in a court of law. The software follows the evidence and provides a complete chain of custody report. It records any changes made or additions made to a piece of evidence or data. For the time management of officers on the IT team, CaseGuard software can provide automated log reports and redaction work reports.

When faced with budget cuts, the threat of privacy violation penalties, and the need to process data so that criminal activity can be curbed, CaseGuard is the number one solution available. CaseGuard’s video and information redaction system solves all the requirements of police departments for handling trails of evidence and protecting the individual’s privacy. For departments to have an ‘in-house’ solution, the department budgets’ amount of savings is phenomenal. If it’s time to do a data privacy analysis, it’s time to call CaseGuard.