The use of body cameras in police work has been one of the most significant changes in the last decade when it comes to adding transparency to a department. Body cameras have become necessary not only to protect the officers but the public as well. As technology has evolved, police-worn cameras have evolved with it. Better quality video as well as audio, have helped departments tremendously. Having a first-hand account of an incident allows officers not only a means to document, but also to learn from and train on any mistakes made in the video.
Often times a cell phone video is posted on social media of police interaction. Sometimes these videos do not show the entire interaction. Police worn body cameras enable the entire interaction to be reviewed. In 2015 it was estimated that over 95% of larger departments had some type of body-worn camera. It’s not just larger departments who are using the cameras to help their department.
The cost of body cameras has come down significantly where they are affordable by departments of all sizes. There are also federal grants available for the purchase of cameras. The Bureau of Justice currently has grants from $300,000 upwards to $1,000,000. Most cameras cost around $500 before software and storage plans are calculated. The cost of the cameras often pays for themselves.
Within two weeks of implementing body cameras, our department responded to a burglary in progress call. With the cameras activated, we were able to capture the perpetrator on scene as well as charge him for striking a police officer. The entire incident was captured on video. For smaller departments, body cameras also serve as another set of eyes for the officer. Vehicle searches are able to be recorded in their entirety, providing documentation of the search process.
Besides evidentiary benefits, body cameras also serve another purpose. According to a recent survey, body-worn cameras also reduced use-of-force incidents. Combined with fewer complaints, this means that less time and money were spent on investigations – translating into significant cost savings. The study estimates net savings per camera-wearing officer to fall between $2,909 and $3,178 annually.
Body cameras have become a necessary tool for law enforcement. In-car cameras are also a great tool, but often incidents happen away from the police vehicle and are not captured on video. The ease of which videos can be uploaded has also improved greatly. Gone are the days when each video had to be manually uploaded. Cameras today can simply be docked at the end of a shift and uploaded to cloud storage for management. The videos can then be accessed easily by prosecutors even up to the day of a trial.
Departments also now have a larger selection of companies to purchase their cameras from. Companies such as Axon, Watchguard, and Wolfcom are the industry leaders in the field of body cameras. Each company has different perks on their cameras that make their product more attractive. For example, Axon offers not only a body worn camera but also a camera known as the flex that can be worn on a head mount for more of a realistic viewpoint from the officer. Advances in video and audio technology will hopefully make the role of a police officer more transparent but also safer as well.