July 17, 2019

JD Insider | Police Officer Body Worn Cameras: Expectation vs. Reality

This week on JD Insider, Callie discusses how police body worn cameras are impacting our criminal justice system and public privacy concerns.

Read the full article below:

Despite everyone’s recent effort to limit the use of technology in order to protect society, we now see a pivotal juxtaposition where protecting society requires allowing the technology to flourish.

In the past decade or so, it seems that technology is expanding at every possible opportunity. However, these technological advances are accompanied by increasing concerns about the public’s privacy that have recently played out in the media. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began a legal battle with Apple after requesting that Apple unlock the iPhone of a suspected terrorist. Apple refused to comply with the request because they felt that unlocking that one phone would show everyone who has an iPhone that their personal data is not truly safe. The booming market of DNA testing has become another privacy issue in regards to what happens to your data after the completion of the family lineage kit. The data is often entered into the Federal Government’s database for crime fighting, which means that if someone in your family commits or witnesses a crime, the government may know to contact you for information. For this reason, among others, some people have decided to abstain from this new health trend. These concerns about a possible privacy breach lead many to believe that officers would oppose the proposal for body worn cameras (BWC’s), but the exact opposite has occurred in New York.

Project Timeline

As the initial surge of police brutality cases began to seep into the media, politicians introduced a way to both protect officers from false reporting and ensure that they remained truthful in their job. The first phase of BWC’s were given to evening shift officers, which began in April of 2017. After this phase supported the research findings, as the New York City Police Department (NYPD) expected, a second phase of the project began when every officer in every precinct received a BWC to wear beginning in December of 2017. The final phase began this past March when the cameras were implemented by all Emergency Service Units, Strategic Response Groups, and Critical Response Command Groups. The entire project is expected to be completed by the end of the summer.


The cameras can be clipped onto an officer’s eyeglasses or adhered at chest level, and are required to record the entirety of the following actions: uses of force, arrests and summonses, interactions with people suspected of criminal activity, searches of a person or property, calls to a crime in progress, investigative actions, and interactions with emotionally disturbed people. When the cameras were first proposed, many believed that they would be constantly recording, but that would definitely spark intense debates over the invasion of the officer’s privacy. The officer must tell civilians that their camera is recording with the exception of when it would jeopardize a party’s safety. If a civilian asks the officer to turn off the camera, the officer holds the discretion to decide if they would like to do so or not. The officer does not need anyone’s permission to begin recording an event. The NYPD’s protocol is to hold all footage for eighteen months, but they admit that incidents that need to be reviewed will be held for longer.

Are They Accurate?

A dent in BWC’s reputation was made by the YouTube videos that surfaced contrasting an officer’s BWC footage to standard view footage of an encounter. This sparked an outcry of people commenting on how the footage would be used in court to mislead jurors and allow for police brutality- the very issue they were designed to combat- to continue. Scholars in the field have responded to these concerns by stating that anything in the courtroom can be used to mislead a jury and distort the facts. However, it is important to note that a video inherently provides more transparency than any other form of evidence due to the undeniable nature of witnessing the content for yourself.

Public Perception

Without a doubt, BWC’s began as an extremely controversial topic when society was first introduced to the concept. However, as their implementation increases, their target market continues to report positive attitude shifts. The International Association of Chiefs of Police conducted a survey in which they found that more than half of Prosecutors believed that time in court had decreased since cameras were introduced. Additionally, an early study showed that with a significantly higher rate of evidence collection resulting from the BWC’s, prosecution rates for domestic violence and intimate partner violence should be steadily increasing. Additionally, an early study from the United Kingdom showed that positive interactions between officers and the public increased with the use of BWC’s and that civilians feel safer as a result of the technology. Clearly, the public has already begun to reap the benefits of revoking just one measure of their privacy.

BWC’s That are Never Turned Off

Police Chief Brandon Del Pozo of the Burlington, VT police department crafted a lengthy blog post about the reasons why officers need to have the ability to turn off their BWCs. His main point surrounds how police officers are not required to be publicly surveilled at all times. Officers, like anyone else, can have personal conversations with others, receive calls from a doctor, or talk to their spouses during the day. The Chief notes how we do not hold all other professionals to that insanely high standard, and therefore we should not require that BWC’s remain on at all times. Additionally the Chief highlights how if the BWC’s remained on at all times then they would capture footage of officers using the restroom and having confidential conversations with attorneys. Both of these times are examples of when officers are not required to be videotaped by any means. One of the final arguments against permanently recording BWC’s is that they would capture the legal but possibly insensitive methods that the officer’s use in dealing with criminals. Del Ponzo makes all of these arguments to ease people’s counter claim that the BWC’s need to be recording at all times.

Benefits of BWC’s

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) performed a study examining the benefits of BWC’s and they found a plethora of potential benefits. The results showed that, with the right implementation, the technology could lead to greater transparency, increased civility, quicker resolutions, training opportunities, and less time needed to obtain evidence. New York courts have already seen quicker resolutions occur due to the ability to have reliable video as evidence in court. Admittedly, guilty pleas are rising with the introduction of BWC’s, but the NYPD aims to use the necessary methods to ensure that this technology continues to be a success.









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