5 Questions to Consider before Adopting Body-Worn Cams

Recent events and news stories about the efficacy and need for body-worn cameras in communities across the country have led many of us to realize the value that this tool can offer. The fact is that no long-term studies have been conducted yet as the technology and pervasiveness of the devices being used has only recently come to market and been utilized.

The Data & Society Research Institute has published a working paper in February of this year outlining the issues which have led up to the usage and issues surrounding body-worn cams.

“Body-worn cameras have received positive appraisal from the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund,and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The latter has stated that their widespread use “[has] the potential to be a win-win, helping protect the public against police misconduct, and at the same time helping protect police against false accusations of abuse.”

In 2013, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) sent surveys to 500 of the 12,501 police departments in the U.S,and of the 254 who completed the survey only 63 of the departments reported using body -worn cameras. However, law enforcement agencies throughout the country are now rapidly adopting the cameras.

In December 2014, President Obama proposed the Body -Worn Camera Partnership Program, which aims to invest $75 million through a 50 % investment matching arrangement with states and localities to cover video storage and equipment expenses, with the goal of underwriting the costs of 50,000 body-worn cameras.

The program is part of a broader three-year, $263 million initiative to strengthen community policing, and the funding plan is part of President Obama’s proposed FY2016 budget.”

As pilot and permanent body-worn camera programs are implemented, the Data & Society Research Institute piece identifies five important to ask questions about how they can be best used to achieve their touted goals.

  1. Will these devices make law enforcement more accountable to the public or will they usher in a new era of surveillance, deception, and abuse?
  2. Who will have access to the footage and under what circumstances?
  3. How will judges, juries, and the public interpret what is recorded?
  4. How will the implementation of these programs be assessed for their efficacy in achieving accountability goals?
  5. What are the best policies to have in place to support those goals?

Before you adopt any technology for your police department or agency, it’s important to consider questions such as these to ensure you fully understand the application and uses as well as the implications and outcomes that you can expect with the technology you are reviewing.

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