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Monday, August 18, 2014

Is Your Local Police Officer Wearing A Body-Worn Camera?

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Is Your Local Police Officer Wearing A Body-Worn Camera?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                   AG
FRIDAY, MAY 1, 2015  
(202) 514-2007

TTY (866) 544-5309


WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice today announced a $20 million Body-Worn Camera (BWC) Pilot Partnership Program to respond to the immediate needs of local and tribal law enforcement organizations.  The investment includes $17 million in competitive grants for the purchase of body-worn cameras, $2 million for training and technical assistance and $1 million for the development of evaluation tools to study best practices.  The pilot program is part of President Obama’s proposal to invest $75 million over three years to purchase 50,000 body-worn cameras for law enforcement agencies.  

“This body-worn camera pilot program is a vital part of the Justice Department’s comprehensive efforts to equip law enforcement agencies throughout the country with the tools, support, and training they need to tackle the 21st century challenges we face,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.  “Body-worn cameras hold tremendous promise for enhancing transparency, promoting accountability, and advancing public safety for law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.”

Administered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) under the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP), the BWC pilot program will provide support to help law enforcement agencies develop, implement and evaluate body-worn camera programs across the United States. 

“Body-worn camera technology is a valuable tool for improving police-citizen relationships,” said Director Denise O’Donnell of the Bureau of Justice Assistance.  “BJA is committed to helping law enforcement agencies identify the safest and most effective methods for deploying this technology and addressing factors such as privacy, archiving and legal regulations surrounding its use.  BJA stands by to guide agencies through what can be a complex process toward more successful adoption of the technology.”

The Justice Department expects to provide 50 awards to law enforcement agencies, with about one-third of the grants directed toward smaller law enforcement agencies.  The grants, which require a 50/50 in-kind or cash match, can be used to purchase equipment but applicants must establish a strong plan for implementation of body-worn cameras and a robust training policy before purchasing cameras.  The long term costs associated with storing this information will be the financial responsibility of each local agency.

Another $2 million will fund a national BWC Training and Technical Assistance provider through a competitive process, to assist agencies developing and enhancing their BWC programs.  This training and technical assistance will provide support to law enforcement agencies to support successful implementation of their body-worn camera programs.

OJP’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) will receive $1 million of the funds to collect data on body-worn camera usage through surveys of law enforcement agencies.  BJS will also design data collection forms that can be used in future surveys of prosecutors and public defenders to measure how body-worn camera footage is being used by the courts in criminal cases.

BJA will launch a BWC Implementation Toolkit in May, designed as an online resource for stakeholders.  The toolkit will focus on implementation requirements, retention issues, policy concerns, interests of prosecutors, victim and privacy advocates’ concerns, along with community engagement and funding considerations.

For additional information about the BWC Pilot Implementation Program, visit this website:.

# # #



Kristina DesCombes
Advertising Manager
Wordsmith Publishing


Updated Sept. 1, 2014

Ferguson Police Begin Using Body Cameras

Police officers in Ferguson, Mo., which became a flashpoint for protests following the fatal shooting of a black teenager by a white police officer just over three weeks ago, have begun using body cameras.

Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that approximately 50 cameras were donated by two companies, Safety Visions and Digital Ally, last week. Officers had the devices on during a protest march Saturday and captured what Jackson said were high-quality images of demonstrators taunting police. 

Jackson said that the cameras were being assigned to the city's police squads and each officer would get one to use. Representatives from the two companies had visited the police department earlier Saturday to train officers on how to use the cameras. 

"They are really enjoying them," Jackson said. "They are trying to get used to using them."

Support for officers wearing outward-facing cameras has increased since the August 9 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Last week, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., suggested that police departments should require officers to wear body cameras in order to receive federal funding. McCaskill, like other supporters of the cameras, said that footage could help determine whether an officer was being wrongfully accused of misconduct by a civilian.

"Everywhere I go people now have cameras,” McCaskill said. "And police officers are now at a disadvantage, because someone can tape the last part of an encounter and not tape the first part of the encounter. And it gives the impression that the police officer has overreacted when they haven't."

However, some law enforcement leaders and civil liberties advocates say that the lack of clear guidelines on the cameras' use could potentially undermine departments' goals of creating greater accountability of officers and jeopardize the privacy of both the public and law enforcement officers.

Use of force by police officers declined 60% in first year since introduction of cameras in Rialto, Calif.

Sometimes, like the moments leading up to when a police officer decides to shoot someone, transparency is an unalloyed good. And especially lately, technology has progressed to a point that it makes this kind of transparency not just possible, but routine.

So it is in Rialto, Calif., where an entire police force is wearing so-called body-mounted cameras, no bigger than pagers, that record everything that transpires between officers and citizens. In the first year after the cameras' introduction, the use of force by officers declined 60%, and citizen complaints against police fell 88%.

It isn't known how many police departments are making regular use of cameras, though it is being considered as a way of perhaps altering the course of events in places such as Ferguson, Mo., where an officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager (Video).

What happens when police wear cameras isn't simply that tamper-proof recording devices provide an objective record of an encounter—though some of the reduction in complaints is apparently because of citizens declining to contest video evidence of their behavior—but a modification of the psychology of everyone involved.

The effect of third-party observers on behavior has long been known: Thomas Jefferson once advised that "whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching." Psychologists have confirmed this intuition, showing that something as primitive as a poster with a pair of glaring eyes can make test subjects behave better, and even reduce theft in an area.


One problem with the cameras, however, has been cost. Fortunately, fierce competition between the two most prominent vendors of the devices, Vievu LLC and Taser International Inc., which makes the cameras used by Rialto police, has driven the price of individual cameras down to between $300 and $400. Unfortunately, one place where expenses can mount is in the storage and management of the data they generate.

Both Taser and Vievu offer cloud-based storage systems for a monthly subscription fee. Think of it as an evidence room-as-a-service, where vendors are happy to see police departments outsource some of their most critical functions, and be subject to the same kind of vendor lock-in that can make corporate IT managers weary of the cloud.

But Taser's system stores video data on Amazon.com Inc.'s cloud, where prices are falling rapidly, and there isn't much about cameras from either vendor that couldn't be reproduced by an enterprising startup.

Given that body-worn cameras use components from the mobile industry, where prices are ground down by scale and competition, it's possible police forces will soon be able to come up with their own solutions, or use off-the shelf products such as Google Glass.

These are all reasons that Michael White, a professor of criminology at Arizona State University and, as the sole author of the Justice Department's report on police and body-mounted cameras, says the cameras, now a curiosity, could soon be ubiquitous. It has happened before: Taser's guns went from introduction to use by more than two-thirds of America's 18,000 police departments in about a decade. "It could be as little as 10 years until we see most police wearing these," says Dr. White.

Not everyone is happy about this possibility. After an order by a federal judge that the New York Police Department equip officers with body-worn cameras in some districts, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association issued a report declaring that they would be an "encumbrance." In the mid-1990s the rollout of dashboard cameras, now standard issue in most patrol cars, met the same resistance, which is why Dr. White says it is important that the adoption of this technology be accomplished through consensus.

"There is a presumption that citizens will be happy with this because it seems to provide more transparency and accountability, but that might not be the case, especially in areas where there are long-term tensions between police and their communities," says Dr. White.

Still, privacy issues abound, and rules about protecting both witnesses and police must be established and tested. Officers would have to turn on their cameras during every encounter with citizens, argues the American Civil Liberties Union, but there might be exceptions, such as when officers are interviewing victims of assault, says Dr. White.

None of these issues have stopped police forces in the U.K., where departments have a decade head start on their counterparts in the U.S., from ever-wider adoption. Police in England and Wales are engaged in large-scale trials, and the aim is to make body-worn cameras standard issue.

In the U.K., where tests with them began in 2005, studies have shown that they aid in the prosecution of crimes, by providing additional, and uniquely compelling, evidence. In the U.S., in some instances they have shortened the amount of time required to investigate a shooting by police from two-to-three months to two-to-three days.

And they represent yet one more way we are being recorded by means that could eventually be leaked to the public.

Of course, sometimes events happen that accelerate the adoption of a technological fix. The tragic irony is that police in Ferguson have a stock of body-worn cameras, but have yet to deploy them to officers.


More Officers Wearing Body Cameras

More police departments are outfitting policemen with wearable cameras that tape what officers see as they do their job, providing a record in the aftermath of incidents like the one in Ferguson, Mo., where a policeman shot and killed an unarmed black teen.

The cameras have shown promise in reducing incidents involving use of force as well as citizen complaints, according to new studies. Worn on officers' lapels, glasses or hats, the cameras can document a more definitive version of police work.

"If you look at what's happening in Ferguson—basically you have two entirely different versions of events," said Michael White, a professor of criminology at Arizona State University. "If that officer was wearing a body-worn camera we could just go to the tape."

Dr. White, who has studied the use of the cameras, said "there's tremendous potential to head off these types of incidents from blowing up afterwards."

Wireless Camera Finder

In a press conference earlier this week, Thomas Jackson, chief of the Ferguson police department, said the department had only recently been budgeted $5,000 to buy a limited number of dashboard cameras and body cameras for officers. Mr. Jackson said the department had not yet put them into use at the time of the shooting but plans on incorporating them into vehicles and on officers soon.

In the Southern California city of Rialto, the number of citizen complaints against police dropped from 24 to 3 in the first year that the patrol officers began wearing cameras in 2012. Use-of-force incidents plummeted from 61 to 25 during the same period.

Tony Farrar, Rialto's chief of police said, "When you talk about putting a camera on somebody, human nature is going to dictate that you're going mind your p's and q's and you're going to be on the best behavior."

"At the same, I think it's had an impact on citizens—if they know you're wearing a camera they too will be on their best behavior," he said.

A 2013 study found that a quarter of 254 U.S. police departments surveyed used body cameras, according to the Police Executive Research Forum. More than 1,200 law enforcement agencies have purchased wearable cameras from Taser International Inc., with about 80% of the company's camera sales occurring in the last 12 months, according to Taser spokesman Steve Tuttle.

Big city police departments have begun to use or test body cameras, including New Orleans, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.


There Also Has Been Some Resistance In Some Quarters

The police union in Las Vegas initially opposed using body cameras, worrying that the footage could be used in fishing expeditions against officers in cases where there were no complaints, said Chris Collins, the union's executive director. The proposal to use cameras had come after rash of police shootings three years ago. Now, some Las Vegas police have begun wearing them after the union and the department hammered out guidelines, including when supervisors are allowed to review footage, Mr. Collins said.

Police body cameras also have sparked some privacy concerns for citizens, but civil liberties groups back their use with some restrictions.

The American Civil Liberties Union said last year that the cameras have 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."

The cameras themselves are only part of the expense—The cameras themselves are only part of the expense—Taser's cameras range from $399 to $599. Data-storage and management costs can be significant, according to a recent report by Dr. White, the Arizona State University professor. "The logistical and resource issues are especially challenging for those smaller police departments," he said.

The police department in Mesa, Ariz., did a side-by-side study of 50 officers wearing cameras and 50 without. The results after eight months: officers with cameras were subject of 8 citizen complaints while those without had 23.

With citizens regularly capturing incidents with police on their cell phones, Mesa Police Department spokesman Steve Berry said the department wanted to have their own video "to tell the whole story or certainly both sides of the story."

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