Body Worn Camera Policy’s Issues and Possible Solutions

Introduction

The primary function of the police is to enforce compliance with the law in every aspect of human life and citizen activity. Modern society is a complex and multi-layered structure that involves millions of people with different and even opposing opinions, life principles, and core values. Therefore, regulating and enforcing unified law frameworks may be a highly challenging objective. A wide variety of policies is introduced yearly in order to optimize the process of law enforcement and address the most relevant policing issues. Such an approach may be highly beneficial for both the citizens as it provides adequate legislation and for police departments as it introduces relevant frameworks. However, such policies require a thorough analysis of the current legal environment and comprehensive development. Moreover, it may be vital to assess the potential impact of the policy on external stakeholders and related expenses. Another element to consider is the existing legislation, as introduced policies should not contradict older ones. In such cases, it may be necessary to either overthink existing laws or adjust emerging policies to align them. It is vital to establish an appropriate balance between these diverse factors.

As already mentioned, the legal environment considers a significant number of factors and depends on a variety of circumstances, and hence, emerging issues may be highly controversial. In many cases, policy development may become a debatable process causing public outrages and political, economic, and social conflicts. One of the most recent examples is the body-worn camera policy. Even though it may appear to be highly beneficial in terms of diverse aspects, such as safety, there are also considerable obstacles and issues related to its implementation. It may be critical to conduct a comprehensive analysis assessing as many potential advantages and disadvantages as possible in order to avoid these problems. Furthermore, there may be a number of different approaches to the implementation of the body-worn camera policy that may significantly influence the outcomes. This paper focuses on conducting a multi-factor analysis of the issue and introducing possible solutions.

Potential Benefits

Police misconduct and police accountability concerns play a significant role in the development of police body camera policies. The main benefit of body cameras is that the recorded footage may be used as a piece of evidence in order to reconstruct the events related to a certain case or crime. The first issue that may be resolved by implementing the body camera policy is police misconduct. Collecting evidence is critical in terms of assessing the legitimacy of actions conducted by police officers. Even though the policy is still in the development stage and is not fully implemented, there already is a number of cases that may support the imitative.

For instance, considerable charges, including a murder conviction, a $10,000 fine, and 15 years of imprisonment, were put against a police officer in Texas. Body-worn camera footage served as sufficient evidence to resolve a citizen-shooting case in 2017. A Maryland case may also serve as a prime example of the body-worn cameras policy contributing to law enforcement against police misconduct. According to some sources, video and audio evidence collected with the help of a body-worn camera was used to introduce charges against an officer who tried to fabricate drug evidence against a citizen (Hendry & Barajas, 2017). Some sources also state that cameras led to a 19% reduction in physical force usage by police officers in Florida (Weston Publishing, 2019). Moreover, a 74% decrease in the amount of unlawful force usage cases filed against the police department was reported (Weston Publishing, 2019). Therefore, the body-worn camera policy may not only protect citizens from police misconduct but also provide sufficient evidence to prevent false accusations against officers. Consequently, less workload is placed on the justice system as a whole.

Another important issue addressed by body cameras is domestic violence. Domestic violence cases may be highly controversial, and a variety of different aspects may prevent a fair trial. The process is frequently considerably complicated by the lack of reliable evidence. Moreover, people may change their testimonies during judicial proceedings due to close relationships between the victim and the offender. Therefore, the collection of video material in combination with timely response to calls may provide sufficient evidence, including injuries of the victim and honest testimony against the offender. Some sources also state that domestic violence victims may feel more secure while providing testimony if the process is recorded. According to the Bible (2008), “whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” Body-worn cameras may also contribute to more frequent admissions of guilt. In addition, it is more likely that the statement given right after the incident has a higher chance of being true as it is not influenced by emotional and financial connections between the victim and the offender.

Last but not least, police body cameras may significantly contribute to the required police reforms, which receive considerable support from the public. First, body cameras provide transparency and accountability to the public, improving not only the performance of police officers but also maintaining healthy relationships between the police and the public. Another positive use of body cameras is police training and improving the quality of law enforcement. Collected video materials may be used in order to set a prime example to students regarding controversial events and possible decisions. Moreover, it may also be used to train active police officers by recording and analyzing their own actions. Such an analysis may introduce a better understanding of working competencies and possible ways of improvement. Some sources state that such an approach to training is broadly utilized in Miami with successful results (Young & Puckett, 2020). In addition, recent research has found that approximately 92% of American citizens vote in favor of the implementation of body camera policies (Kahn, 2020). Such massive support from the public, combined with a list of potential benefits, makes the body-worn camera policy worth consideration. However, there also are several problems that may complicate the implementation process and cause adverse consequences.

Policy-related Problems

The first and most problematic issue related to body-worn cameras is their price and reliability. Even though technology constantly advances in improving video recording devices introducing higher quality, and reducing costs, it may still represent a considerable expense for police departments. In addition, body-worn cameras must comply with a number of requirements regarding weight, size, and durability. These criteria make it even more complicated to provide reasonably priced cameras within the existing budget. Moreover, concomitant maintenance services are needed, including data storage, analysis, and repair works. Costly devices needed for implementation and maintenance may not be accessible for remote departments with small budgets. According to recent reports, Baltimore Police spent almost $35.1 million to fulfill the body-worn camera policy (Reutter, 2020). Therefore, it may be critical to introduce a cost-efficient approach to the implementation of such programs. Developing centralized manufacture of high-quality cameras may also reduce expenses by benefiting from the economy of scale.

Nonetheless, high prices are not the only issue related directly to body-worn cameras. Another challenge is represented by the insufficient quality of existing body-worn cameras, which leads to frequent breakdowns or poor video quality. Moreover, existing cameras do not provide sufficient battery life to record constantly during the shift. The problem may be deteriorated by bad weather conditions such as low temperatures, which have a negative impact on battery performance. In some cases, cameras may malfunction, causing even more expenses related to maintenance and repair.

Another significant issue closely linked to the use of body cameras is the violation of privacy rights. The problem consists of several independent elements, including the use of software to recognize faces, exposing victims, and violating privacy legislation. Moreover, various cybersecurity concerns may become a challenge to the implementation of body camera programs. Collected video materials are stored in digital formats using a unified database, which represents potential risks related to breaches in cybersecurity, hardware flaws, human factor, and cybercrime. Therefore, there is a higher chance that personal data can be obtained by criminals and used to their benefit. In addition, such recordings may become a source of further trauma for victims of brutal severe crimes. In some cases, recorded videotapes may be inappropriate and hence significantly interfere with human rights and privacy. Another related issue is the fact that recorded witnesses or victims may be threatened by criminals. Public exposure provided by body-worn cameras may cause significant damage to the social life of an individual regardless of the court’s decision.

Privacy concerns may also influence the public perception of police and the willingness of individuals to cooperate. While in some cases, body-worn cameras may encourage victims and witnesses to speak openly as the recording prevents misinterpretation of their words, in other situations, cameras may serve as a barrier. People may be less open to cooperating with police officers knowing that everything is recorded regardless of the circumstances. Moreover, people may feel uncomfortable on camera, which may have an adverse effect on the development of crucial relationships between the police and the public.

Another closely related issue is the unwillingness of citizens to cooperate with police while being recorded is fear of retaliation. In many cases, people who have vital information regarding a certain case prefer to stay anonymous if they provide the data to the police. According to some sources, people might be less likely to share information on the camera, especially in high-crime regions (Bowman, 2017). Cooperation with police may cause retaliation to such individuals, and hence they prefer to stay anonymous, yet it may be impossible if the body-worn camera policy is implemented.

As technology advances and penetrates all areas of modern life, the public is becoming more and more sensitive to violations of privacy. Digital privacy violations caused a considerable number of public outcries during the past few years. As such digital technologies as neural networks emerge, people are more concerned about possible surveillance than ever. Some sources state that body-worn cameras may be used to track faces and voices in order to conduct constant surveillance (Cagle, 2021). Public distrust in cybersecurity combined with the potential interference of body cameras with privacy rights may widen the gap between the police and the public. Even though the initiative is primarily designed to increase the public trust in police, without proper consideration, its implementation may cause the opposite effect.

Last but not least, body-worn cameras may considerably lower the safety of police officers and increase the chance of aggressive behavior against them. Such a consequence of body camera policies may negatively impact both the physical and mental health of police officers. Some sources state that assaults against police occurred 14% more frequently when body cameras were worn (Ariel et al., 2016). It may be explained by the fact that some people may react aggressively to being filmed by officers. Reactions may be even more violent if the filmed person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. As already mentioned, body-worn cameras may interfere with privacy rights and hence lead to public outcries. In some cases, constant surveillance may cause an inadequate reaction from certain citizens, which threatens the physical health of police officers (Henderson, 2015). Therefore, it may be critical to address public perception and attitude toward the body-worn cameras policy before its implementation.

Another issue is related directly to the number of equipment officers need to wear on a daily basis. A wide variety of items, such as flashlights, bulletproof vests, handcuffs, radios, pepper sprays, and more, is an inseparable part of modern police equipment. As a consequence, a fully equipped officer is weighed down to acceptable limits. Even though body cameras are relatively small and lightweight, it may be necessary to carefully assess the need for new items before adding them to the equipment list. In addition, high failure rates of body-worn cameras may require carrying spare batteries or even a spare camera to prevent recording interruptions. Finally, modern digital devices frequently rely on high-capacity batteries that may malfunction and even explode. Moreover, unlike other pieces of equipment, cameras may be shared by police officers accelerating the spread of infections, which is particularly relevant during the current pandemic (White & Malm, 2020). It may be critical to introduce frameworks in order to minimize risks related to the malfunction of faulty or damaged cameras.

Do Nothing

Impact to Department

Police body-worn cameras policy is currently not broadly implemented and does not function fully in most States. Therefore, doing nothing and canceling the program should have minimal impact on the department as it implies no changes. Even though including body-worn cameras in the equipment may appear to be a relatively straightforward action, it represents a number of pitfalls that should be considered. Not implementing the policy would free the departments from a long and resource-consuming process that requires employee training, adaptation, and reassessment of core values. However, even though doing nothing would mean no internal reformation, it would not prevent external factors from changing. Public pressure and, in some cases, public demands to implement the policy may occur more and more frequently. Department’s refusal to implement the policy may increase the gap between the citizens and police departments.

Impact on External Stakeholders

The body-worn cameras policy implementation is a global program that may affect a significant number of external stakeholders. To some extent, every citizen, regardless of age, gender, or profession, may be influenced by the policy mentioned above. As the initiative is broadly supported by the public, not implementing the policy would not be beneficial for most of the external stakeholders. According to some sources, external stakeholders provide significant support for body-worn cameras (Bowman, 2017). Even though there are also stakeholders, which express their concerns about the policy, in most cases, they do not vote against the policy but believe it requires regulation.

Impact on Budget

As mentioned before, body-worn cameras may considerably influence the budget. The implementation of the program would result in not only direct expenses on the equipment but also additional resources spent to train police officers and develop frameworks to use video materials in court efficiently. Therefore, doing nothing would reduce the expenses required for both the implementation of the program and its maintenance. Nonetheless, even though body-worn cameras represent an undoubtedly expensive initiative, they may reduce costs in some areas of police activity. For instance, not implementing the program may increase the costs required to obtain sufficient evidence regarding controversial cases, which could be replaced by video recordings. Moreover, further expenses to improve police accountability and prevent misconduct may be required.

Possible Issues

There is a growing gap between the public and the police caused by diverse issues, including police misconduct, low accountability, and rapidly increasing mistrust. Although the body-worn cameras policy requires further development and may not be fully implemented instantly, it is demanded by the public. Doing nothing may cause public outrage decreasing the efficiency of the police, reducing citizen’s will to cooperate, and even threatening both the physical and mental health of police officers.

Incremental Approach

Impact on Department

Body cameras represent a highly debatable project with a number of possible advantages and disadvantages. In many cases, police officers demonstrate several concerns regarding the implementation of the program. It may be essential to identify if the initiative is introduced as a tool to support officers or as a measure to control them implemented due to lack of trust. Viewing the initiative from different angles and discussing it with departments is an important element of successful implementation. An incremental approach may provide sufficient time frames to assess the program during the process of implementation and adjust it in order to address emerging issues. Moreover, it may be beneficial in terms of providing training to department workers. The incremental implementation leaves room for greater flexibility and mitigates possible problems and obstacles.

Impact on External Stakeholders

As mentioned before, most external stakeholders believe that the initiative should be implemented as soon as possible in order to address diverse issues causing distrust between the citizens and the police. Even though the incremental approach may appear rational to some stakeholders, others believe that possible benefits are too significant to delay the program. The impact of the incremental approach on external stakeholders is closely linked with their expectations. Recent studies have shown that both civilians and courts expect officers to use body cameras even though the policy is not fully implemented (Fan, 2020). Moreover, stakeholders expect officers to record constantly regardless of the circumstances, which may lead to violation of privacy rights (Fan, 2020). Hence, it may be necessary to manage the expectations of core stakeholders during the process of implementation in order to avoid ambiguous interpretation. The incremental approach may provide frameworks needed to address the expectations managing process before the programs start to operate fully.

Impact on Budget

The cost of implementation may differ significantly depending on the approach taken. Moreover, it may influence how the financial burden is spread over time. Although the incremental method may be more costly than full implementation, such an approach may provide an opportunity for departments to spread expenses over time, preventing serious budgeting problems. Some sources also state that the cost of body-worn cameras may differ from $120 to $2000 for a single device, which is a huge difference (Bowman, 2017). An incremental implementation may allow departments to test various devices in order to identify a product that provides the best value for money, reducing overall expenses. Moreover, a large portion of the budget is spent on hardware and software needed to provide cloud storage. The expenses mentioned above are significantly overestimated due to the lack of development in the area. An incremental approach may enable further technological development before full implementation, reducing the cost of cloud services and providing better cybersecurity.

Possible Issues

One of the most significant issues is related to public expectations regarding the use of body-worn cameras. As video evidence may play a considerable role during the trial, it is frequently used if available. The uneven implementation of the policy may cause a deep imbalance between public expectations and reality. Availability of video evidence may differ from one case to another, which may negatively affect the consistency of the judicial system and provoke inequality. Managing expectations may mitigate the issue, yet introducing a unified framework as fast as possible may be highly beneficial.

Full Implementation

Impact on Department

Full implementation of the policy may have a considerable impact on various levels and dimensions. First, many officers perceive body-worn cameras as a result of public distrust and as a method to control and supervise police. Therefore, it may be crucial to explain potential benefits in terms of safety, false accusation prevention, and evidence provision. Second, rapid implementation of the initiative may cause work overload for departments. Police officers may need additional training to use body-worn cameras properly. Specialists who maintain the recording and storage may also be overloaded with work. Moreover, emerging legal frameworks may increase necessary paperwork and increase the demand for training even further.

Impact on External Stakeholders

Most of the external stakeholders may benefit from the full implementation of the body-worn cameras policy. Increasing police accountability and preventing police misconduct as soon as possible is demanded by most citizens. However, the initiative also brings up a number of privacy concerns that also affect external stakeholders. Even though many people believe that advantages outweigh possible privacy violations, it may be essential to improve cybersecurity and limit the use of recorded materials. Furthermore, such stakeholders as judicial system workers may also be overloaded with work. Video recordings of a particular case may last for several hours, and it is vital to watch and analyze all the materials to avoid bias. In addition, such an investment of time might not always provide valuable evidence related to the case.

Impact on Budget

Full implementation of the program represents an enormous financial burden placed on departments. It may have adverse effects on the budget, and tight timeframes leave no room for maneuvering. Some sources state that a department needs to spend $67,500 to equip 50 officers with body cameras (White et al., 2018). Another $55,000 needs to be spent annually in order to store recordings (White et al., 2018). There are approximately 700,000 police officers in the U.S. in 2021. Even though some of them are already equipped with body-worn cameras, the majority are not. Purchasing 700,000 cameras would cost almost $945 million, with an additional $770 million spent on data storage yearly. Such expenses equal 1.3% of the yearly law enforcement budget, which is a huge portion considering it is an independent project.

Possible Issues

A full implementation may leave no room for the development of policies related to the use of body-worn cameras and introducing video evidence in court. Even though it may seem to provide higher police accountability, prevent police misconduct, reduce the frequency of false accusations, and provide valuable evidence, without sufficient frameworks, it may be impossible to achieve mentioned objectives. In addition, rapid full implementation of the initiative may increase public concerns regarding the violation of privacy rights.

Conclusion

Body-worn cameras policy is a complex program that requires comprehensive analysis, which addresses as many important factors as possible. The initiative may have a considerable impact not only on the workflow of the departments but on the daily life of citizens and on the approach to law enforcement budgeting. A number of opposing opinions in public makes the implementation of the body-worn cameras program a highly debatable and sensitive subject. It may be challenging to introduce an optimal decision in such a complicated environment, yet it may be vital to focus on the contradictions emerging in society. There are numerous ways in which the implementation of body-worn cameras may be approached, from refusing to accept the policy to full implementation. The balance between the benefits and issues related to the policy depends primarily on the chosen approach. Therefore, it is critical to provide sufficient analysis, evaluation, and development in order to achieve maximum efficiency and minimize concomitant risks.

References

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Young, J., & Puckett, A. (2020). Body-Worn cameras and policing. Criminology. Web.

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DemoEssays. "Body Worn Camera Policy's Issues and Possible Solutions." February 13, 2023. https://demoessays.com/body-worn-camera-policys-issues-and-possible-solutions/.