Q & A on testing Body-Worn Cameras
Q: What is a body worn camera (BWC)?
A: A small, battery-powered camera worn by law enforcement personnel either on their uniform, vest, hat/helmet, or on eyewear.
Q: What kind of BWC are available?
A: Law enforcement personnel are using and testing cameras made by TASER, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, Black Mamba Protection BMPpro, based in Austin, TX , and by VIEVU, based in Seattle, Washington.
Q: What’s the difference between the three camera systems?
Taser’s cameras, which use standard definition video, can be worn on both eyewear and uniforms. VIEVU’s are only worn on uniforms and offer both standard and high definition video. BMPpro offers both standard and high definition and can be worn both on the uniform and hat/helmet. All three systems offer cloud-based video storage, i.e., uploaded through the internet and stored on secure off-site servers. All three systems also have options to store video on existing SPD servers, along with footage from the department’s in-car camera video system that’s already in use. The BMPpro also has the option to mount inside the vehicle to be used as a dashcam.
Q. How many cameras should an agency test at a time?
A: Depending on how big your Precinct is, it is recommended one Precinct per brand of camera. If you are only going to test one brand, then use a minimum of 6 units as your test verses the control. Run the test for at least 60 to 90 days.
Q: Why are law enforcement personnel wearing cameras?
A: The intent is to capture video perspective of officer interactions. The footage can be used to help monitor the behavior of law enforcement personnel and as evidence against suspects. In addition, a recent report by the U.S. Department of Justice found that the use of body-worn cameras “document a reduction in citizen complaints against the police and, in some cases, similar reductions in use of force and assaults on law enforcement personnel.”
Q: Will the cameras record audio as well as video?
A: Yes. Law enforcement personnel will ask for consent to record residences, or other private areas not open to the public. The request and response will be recorded. If the request is denied, law enforcement personnel will stop recording during the time they’re in the private area. However, law enforcement personnel can record without consent for crimes in progress or in other circumstances that allow law enforcement personnel to be legally present without a warrant. Please check with your local laws and policies to see if it is the same.
Q. How will I know if I’m being recorded by a body worn video camera?
A: Verbal notification and an indicator light will turn on when the camera is activated, which may or not be visible to the citizen. If you see an officer wearing a BWC ask him if it is recording.
Q. Are there places where law enforcement personnel cannot use the cameras?
A: Law enforcement personnel won’t record public protests, or in places where an expectation of privacy exists, such as restrooms, jails, or hospitals unless there’s reasonable suspicion a crime is being committed or the recording of the location is material to a criminal investigation.
Q: Did the controversy following the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. factor into agencies’ decision to use BWC? (Many people feel BWC would have shed light on the events that led to tragic incident).
A. Many agencies have been looking into the use of body-worn cameras for some time and were drafting plans for a pilot test before the Ferguson incident.
Q: Could the video be tampered with or altered by a police officer or anyone else?
A: No. The systems were designed with security “hash tags” that will mark the original videos, so that any alteration can be identified. Only non-removable internal memory should be used in BWC,
Q. Can the videos be viewed by the public?
A: State law allows the public to request video footage through a public records request.
Q: Are any other police departments in the Nation using BWC?
A: Several, including Los Angles and Coral Springs police departments. The London police department are even deploying BWC.
Q. How long are the videos kept?
A: Current policy is to indefinitely keep video recordings dealing with crimes. Each agency has their own set of policies on the length that videos are kept.