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14 Things Police Should Consider Before Purchasing Body Cameras

It’s no secret that the adoption of body cameras by law enforcement has been one of the hottest debated topics lately in the United States. Even the President has proposed a three-year, $75 million investment that could help with the purchase of 50,000 body-worn cameras. The hope is that these cameras will increase accountability for both the police, as well as civilians.

According to a 2013 study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three police departments in the U.S. are using body cameras for at least some of their officers. With many more departments preparing to do the same, there are several things that need to be considered before making such an investment.

1. Ease of Use

Outside of the obvious need for a simple-to-locate on/off switch, you’ll also need to consider how much work will be required of an officer to download videos from the camera, label them and store them in a secure database or video management system.

2. Durability and Comfort

Body cameras should be as tough as the officers that wear them. They should be able to handle taking an impact and withstand a variety of weather conditions. While you’ll want a product that’s structurally sound, you also need to make sure it’s not so heavy that it becomes cumbersome for the officer to wear.

3. Placement

Body cameras can be mounted on a number of locations including the chest, shoulders, and on helmets or eyewear. Different positions come with different challenges. For example, a chest-mounted camera’s view could be blocked by your arms if you’re in shooting stance. Similarly, a shoulder-mounted camera wouldn’t be able to follow your line of site if you were peering around a corner with your back against a wall. Regardless of placement, it should be understood that cameras won’t always capture 100% of the action.

4. Record the Past

Certain models of body cameras can record a buffer of anywhere from 30 seconds to 20 minutes of video. This is particularly useful if an officer hits the record button after an incident has already started.

5. Work with standard data formats.

Any camera you buy needs to support a non-proprietary, standards-based video format. Using the format cell phones use will help eliminate complicated video analysis issues later on. Otherwise, investigations will be hampered and slowed by the need to convert the footage to a standard format, which can also impact the actual video detail.

6. Mind your Metadata

Body cameras need to store as much information as possible about the environment in which they’re capturing video. Look for a camera that, at a minimum, captures time and date. These facts will make a difference in any investigation.

7. Encryption is Essential

From initial capture to final storage, strict encryption systems should be in place to protect sensitive data.

8. Don’t Forget Additional Costs

The price of the hardware is just the beginning. Many other costs need to be considered such as training, support, video storage, as well as software to analyze and manage video evidence.

9. Support

Does your department have IT support, or will training of each officer be required? Managing hardware, software and storage, among other things, is no small task. If you don’t have internal support resources, you should determine what level of support the body cam company can offer you.

10. Set Policies

Policies and guidelines need to be developed to ensure transparency and accountability. A few things to consider include when an officer can or can’t record an interaction, how long video evidence should be retained, and how the data can be shared externally.

11. Handling Requests for Video Footage

Depending on the laws in your state, there are certain requirements to consider before releasing footage to the media or public. Redaction of innocent bystanders, minors or witnesses may be necessary. Manual frame-by-frame redaction can be time consuming, but software can assist in the process.

12. Plan to do a Trial

When making a large investment for your police department, it’s important to make sure the hardware fits your specific needs. You’ll need to put together a team to lead the trial and provide detailed feedback along the way. According to Reveal Media, a producer of body cameras, you should plan to run the trial for a minimum of 30 days, but ideally 90 days. If you plan to do a large trial of 100+ cameras, you may need to extend it to as much as 6 months.

13. Engage with the Media and Public During Your Trial

Engage with the media and public during your trial. The public is divided between those that are concerned about privacy implications of body cameras and those that demand their use by police departments to increase accountability. It’s important that you work with the media and the public to create a level of transparency about how you’ll address any issues that may arise out of their use. Leaving it open to interpretation will only cause misinformation to be spread.

14. Look into Grants

There are several grants available to law enforcement organizations wanting to implement body cameras. Our friends at PoliceOne have provided a list to help you get started on your research.

Get Grant Help for COBAN Technologies products
Get Grant Help for VIEVU products
Get Grant Help for Reveal products
Get Grant Help for TASER International products
Get Grant Help for Digital Ally, Inc. products
Get Grant Help for Safety Vision products

As you can see, there are many things to consider when purchasing body cameras. If your department has purchased body cameras or is thinking about it, what would you add to this list?