police officer body camera

Police Body Cameras and Trust: The Case for Transparency

The issue of transparency has never mattered more, both to police departments and the communities they serve.  Law enforcement has been finding innovative ways to share more information with the public while leaning heavily into police body camera technology that makes it easier to document, store, and share video evidence.

 Why Transparency is a Win-Win

If transparency is everything these days, it may be because it tends to benefit all parties involved. Communities who have felt hard done by in past encounters with local law enforcement get an opportunity to understand what goes into policing procedures. And agencies that feel often unwarranted mistrust from the community get a chance to set the record straight.

Transparency hasn’t always come naturally to agencies but, in recent years, they’ve begun to appreciate that prioritizing it is a great way to improve community relations while enhancing the quality of policing itself. For agencies, the trick is often to balance public demands for the release of timely information regarding open investigations with the urgent need to protect the integrity of the investigation.

One way law enforcement has become more transparent is to create public data portals. By making records of arrests, use-of-force incidents, and even internal investigations public, citizens are better able to access information about police practices. 

Another departmental approach to transparency is to hold town-hall-style meetings that present community members with a chance to ask questions and ultimately better understand police activities. Some departments have even created civilian oversight boards and empowered them to investigate complaints against officers or make reform recommendations.

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Where the Public Stands

The public often sees the need for transparency through a lens of accountability, a way of holding officers responsible for their actions. The logic being, that when officers know they are being watched, they are less likely to engage in misconduct and more likely to ensure that all citizens are treated fairly and equally.

Video footage from a police-worn camera naturally bolsters efforts at transparency and shines a light on the truth. And when people in the community are able to see with their own eyes that officers are doing good work – or that they behaved above board in a situation where details are disputed – trust grows. This give and take can build a bridge of trust between departments and communities, particularly those that have historically been marginalized or that are consistently dogged by crime.

In a recent national survey from Veritone, 42% of respondents acknowledged that a lack of transparency has hurt their perception of law enforcement in the past. The same survey revealed broad public support for law enforcement to use tools like body-worn cameras and facial recognition technology in their efforts to find criminal suspects. 

Some 61% said they trust police to use technology to aid in suspect identification efforts. A big reason for the support across the board? The belief that technology can accelerate or enhance transparency efforts. 

Why Police Officers are Embracing Wearing Body Cameras

While some officers may initially feel uneasy about strapping on a body camera, they tend to warm up to the idea once they realize the upside. And with some states now actually legislating that officers must wear body-worn cameras, it’s a good moment to reflect on how this perceived intrusion into an officer’s life actually benefits them.

Scrutiny comes from all sides these days and any video data that can prove to a community or a court what happened in a charged officer-involved moment is welcome. (The ubiquity of smartphone camera footage has added another element to these conversations.) Communities have a high bar when it comes to demanding accountability. Video footage meets their needs and then some. 

Top-notch body cameras are only one part of a larger ecosystem designed to support officers in the field. Some cameras are embedded right into the uniform, preventing them from detaching, and include a number of features that make an officer’s job easier:

  • Automatic activation ensures the camera is rolling in the most important moments without the officer having to stop and check
  • Smart holster sensor detects the moment a firearm is removed from its holster and sends real-time alerts to dispatch and nearby officers
  • Foot pursuit activation detects when an officer is running and triggers the recording via a built-in accelerometer

The upshot is that officers are allowed to focus on the most critical aspects of their job, not the tech that accompanies them. This last point is critical, as no officer wants to realize after the fact that they failed to capture critical moments on camera that could have been used in an ensuing investigation.

At the end of the day, everyone has the same goal: to increase public safety. When the public trusts the police, they are more likely to cooperate. While increasing transparency may not heal every division between law enforcement agencies and the communities in which they operate, it’s a start and it can certainly play a major role in building trust on an ongoing basis. Accountability matters and technology-enabled transparency has the power to boost public safety to new heights.

Police Body Cameras by Utility

Utility offers a number of helpful, powerful technology solutions for law enforcement. For example, EOS by Utility™ is an intelligent body camera technology that improves officer productivity while boosting departmental transparency.Reach out to us anytime to learn more about how we are helping departments just like yours better serve their communities and their officers.

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About Utility, Inc.

At Utility, we believe in using technology to enhance transparency. We are a vertically integrated supplier of software-based solutions for body-worn cameras and in-car cameras to capture video evidence, as well as digital media evidence management and video redaction for managing and releasing video.

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