We’ve examined body and dash cameras from a historical perspective, as well as showing modern examples of use, as well as certain policy decisions. We intended to keep this series open-ended, and did not try to answer each and every specific question that can be brought up. But in consideration of that, what did we learn?
Police Work is Public
If nothing else was evident in this series, we hope that the understanding that police work is public in nature, and has only rare exceptions to that fact. Number one, police work is on the behalf of the government. Two, police work is generally regarding the removal of Constitutional rights of a person. Keeping that in mind, we need to understand that implementing a camera program is very helpful, but the use of cameras needs to be carefully considered prior to placing them in the field. They are a tool, and can only help your agency if you create a plan that is helpful.
Cameras Answer a Lot of Questions
Between blind studies, historical data, and of course trial results, it is clear that cameras can answer a lot of questions concerning arrestees, and the behavior they present. They can also answer questions concerning behavior of officers, and the public.
The use of cameras has to be designed in a way that makes their use routine, but also gives officers options, rather than mandatory applications. But even to that end, you will end up with a lot of problems solved, and new ones to contend with that have no clear answer.
Cameras Create a Lot of Questions
Much of what people see is based on how they see events prior to them occurring. Rather, people are creatures of routine, and once they have a particular viewpoint, it is virtually impossible to dissuade them, even if they see video evidence that disrupts the logic of their positions.
Be it a use of force event, an investigative stop, an arrest, if people already hold negative views, the concept of releasing material for public consumption will not sway opinions for either the short or long term. It might only pacify views held by the public.
That suggests that over time, if your agency does experience a legitimately questionable event, those pacified views will become even more intense once that questionable event is made public. In other words, choose your moments of releasing information wisely, if afforded the opportunity.
Policy & Litigation
Digital evidence captured by agencies, particularly by cameras lead into a whole other realm of policy considerations, and litigation considerations. From records requests, to civil court procedure, agencies will find that camera footage will create new areas of responsibility for their personnel, and will also lead to re-writing of already established policies, and of course drafting of new policy.
All of this means new departmental training, procedure, leadership tasks, and quite possibly some personnel may not have the same amount of time to dedicate to other primary tasks.
Agencies have to consider the labor constraints they may already have when it comes to adding cameras, along with what kind of additional infrastructure they need to support this new operational component.
On the bright side, cameras almost always clear officers of wrongdoing, and to that end, we find that on the whole officers are acting rationally, logically, and within scope of their employment, which means a greater reduction to liability than any one item within an agency can bring. It is indeed possible that this one aspect negates all other considerations regarding policy and litigation.
History shows us that the cameras have been in use in law enforcement for a long time, and their use in court is well established. For the purpose of evidence, there is arguably no greater tool in enforcing the integrity of officer’s investigations, and their arrest decisions.
From this perspective it is easy to conclude that both body and dash cameras work well in recording reasonable suspicion and probable cause elements of a particular event. That alone should lead to greater numbers of successful prosecutions, and plea arrangements.
In the business of law enforcement, that’s the bottom line.
So whether you’re choosing to implement a body or dash camera program, whether you’re looking to upgrade your policy, or whether you’re wondering if your established program is worth it, hopefully this discussion has been useful in considering a number of elements that should be part of the discussion. It is our opinion that cameras do more good than harm, and should be implemented in a careful, studious manner that affords officers the widest latitude of use. In the beginning, that may seem tedious, but in the long run the pay off in terms of criminal prosecutions, civil litigation, and complaint processing should be more efficient across the board, making your agency a leader on the digital and data frontier.
Be safe out there!