Law enforcement uses footage from police body cameras to document statements, behavior, evidence, and most importantly to demonstrate transparency throughout communities.
Policies concerning body-worn cameras vary considerably across the country—the specifics being governed by state and local laws and individual agencies. And while every agency is required to precisely define their video recording policy (when and how to use their body cameras), the variation of required implementations is leaving communities, law enforcement agencies, and legislators at crossroads.
Currently, only seven states mandate the statewide use of body-worn cameras by law enforcement officers (Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Carolina). Before May 2020, South Carolina was the only state requiring body-worn cameras’ widespread adoption.
Critical Situations and The Need for Transparency
The responsibility to capture footage in precarious situations is primarily an officer’s job. But whether cameras will improve police accountability and transparency, as supporters expect, depends heavily on how and when they’re used.
As policy-based recording continues to become the new standard for body-worn camera programs, police departments benefit from improved policy compliance through the elimination of human error and implicit bias. Policy-based recording helps to ensure police chiefs have the video they need at the most critical moments and in full compliance with agency policy and community expectations. Policy-based recording via automation should be the new expectation of a department’s body-worn camera provider. Employing this advanced technology can increase public trust, agency transparency, and executive accountability in the communities they serve” – Police Chief Magazine
The State of Our United States
Implementing uniform policies is long and arduous due to varying opinions and finances. Let’s take a closer look at the current situation across the nation:
Connecticutoffers grants-in-aid to municipal law enforcement agencies and state university police forces (special police forces established pursuant to Sec. 10a-156b) for body-worn recording equipment and digital data storage devices or services.
Alaska’s privacy laws remain some of the strictest in the country—and these laws may be halting the state’s largest police department from implementing the body-worn camera program approved by voters last year.
In 2015, South Carolina’s Body Worn Camera Law created a fund to help fund cameras. Unfortunately, the allocated funds are still not enough—in fact, as of 2021, only 259 eligible agencies have received funding, leaving over 40 agencies still waiting.
Ohio quickly shared on-the-scene footage from the officer’s body-worn camera of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant’s death because of the state’s public record policy.
On the other hand, in North Carolina, footage from cameras worn by law enforcement officers is not public record.
The Future with BodyWorn Cameras
Utility identified the drawbacks of body camera technology and designed (and continues to evolve) EOS by Utility (formerly BodyWorn) to address these issues.
Some policymakers argue cameras pose a potential risk to sensitive investigations. To answer that issue, Utility developed technology that automatically activates an officer or deputy’s body camera based on department policy and other user-defined rules. Cloud-based software automatically redacts video and audio evidence hours to protect privacy rights before being shared or exported.
While law enforcement is trained to press the record button during a high-stakes situation, the reality is that sometimes it fails to happen, especially during a foot chase or when drawing a weapon. Unlike traditional body cameras, Utility’s EOS solution offers intelligent body camera technology that removes the officer’s burden of remembering to turn on their camera, especially in a high-risk situation.
“As police officers, we are there to serve the Community. If our video is not being produced when it’s supposed to be produced, if the cameras are not recording when they should be recording, that’s a failure on the agency’s part. You don’t want to have that failure on your watch. You want to make sure those cameras are recording on those incidents where they need to be recording, as it’s written in the policy.”
– Carlo Capano, former Chief of Police for the Manchester Police Department in New Hampshire
While the debate and variation among state policies will continue to go on, what’s most important is that agencies evolve based on the needs of their communities. Leaning on successful body-worn camera programs will help states navigate the process.