Chief Jason Dombkowski the-evolution-of-bodyworn-camera-technology

The Evolution of BodyWorn Camera Technology Brings Policy-Based Automatic Recording


Chief Jason Dombkowski retired in January 2019 after 25 years of service with the West Lafayette (Indiana) Police Department (WLPD), where he served as the city’s chief of police from 2008 to 2019. Currently, he is the director of law enforcement relations for BodyWorn by Utility, Inc. Under Chief Dombkowski’s leadership, the WLPD was the first law enforcement agency to deploy police body-worn cameras in Indiana, beginning in 2012. He is a U.S. Department of Justice body-worn camera subject matter expert, as well as the immediate past president of the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police.

Why are we asking our officers to remember to turn on the body-worn camera during a potentially dangerous and stressful encounter, when there is technology available to do it for them?

Many police officers have attended Monday morning staff meetings where the events of the weekend drive the morning discussion. Attention-grabbing use-of-force incidents and subsequent community concerns are often first on the agendas of today’s information-driven law enforcement executives who are accustomed to instant, real-time details. The chief asks to review the body camera video of an incident in question. A staff member replies, “Chief, we don’t have video of the incident because it happened so quickly. The officer did not have time to activate their body-worn camera.”

Police administrators in conference rooms across the United States have dealt with the fallout from lack of video from an officer-citizen encounter incident where the agency policy calls for recording. These problematic instances are all too common in progressive police agencies today that have implemented body-worn camera programs. When departments don’t have the video evidence that they are supposed to have according to their policy, public trust erodes. There may even be cause for discipline when an officer otherwise did an exemplary job of handling a difficult situation. Additionally, there can be political consequences for police chiefs during these matters of public controversy due to the failure to have video of the incident.

West Lafayette Police Department started a body-worn camera program in late 2012 in conjunction with graduate school research the then-chief, Jason Dombkowski, was conducting in the College of Technology at Purdue University. Body-worn camera technology was fairly archaic in 2012 compared to the automated capabilities offered by some of today’s trailblazing body-worn camera providers. The first-generation body-worn camera systems of that era required manual activation of the cameras and the use of docking stations to offload recordings from the cameras.

Law enforcement technology since then has been continuously evolving and becoming more intelligent. Fast forward to the advanced capabilities of today’s body-worn cameras. Smart technology can automatically turn on the body-worn cameras for officers in the field, thus allowing for accurate Policy-Based Recording.

The New Standard for Policy-Driven Automated Recording

In 2017, West Lafayette purchased a state-of-the-art second-generation body camera system and instituted the concept of Policy-Based (Automatic) Recording by embracing many of the newly available automatic recording triggers for body-worn cameras. These automatic recording triggers changed the entire premise of the agency’s long-standing body-worn camera program. By now placing the onus of recording and policy compliance on existing technology, the officers can focus on doing the already challenging job they were trained to do. Software-driven body-worn cameras and in-car video recording systems can be configured to automatically start or stop recording based on an agency’s specific recording policies, which, in turn, helps to promote efficiency, transparency, and accountability. The concept of Policy-Based Recording delivers and ensures consistent, bias-free, and reliable automatic video recording. Through over-the-air software updates to cameras in the field, Policy-Based Recording provides consistently current compliance with an agency’s ever-evolving recording policies.

Installation of automated vehicle sensors allows for configurable decisions on when to start recording. For example, an agency might choose to have cameras turn on when the patrol vehicle’s emergency light bar is turned on and the door opens. Other vehicle sensors that can trigger automatic recording include rifle and shotgun locks, vehicle speed, and crash sensors. These automatic vehicle recording triggers now exist to help ensure compliance with recording policies.

New technology has allowed for the body-worn cameras to activate automatically during a foot pursuit. With a built-in accelerometer, advanced cameras can detect when an officer is running and will automatically start recording.

Additional advanced safety features provide an officer down alert and activation of the body-worn camera, in the event an officer has become prone in the field and needs assistance. If an officer goes down, the system starts an automatic recording and recalls two minutes of video and audio before the incident and alerts all nearby officers. The system also alerts command staff and sends the downed officer’s GPS coordinates, allowing quicker response times for responding officers. All officers can think of an incident in their careers when this technology would have been helpful to have available.

Game-Changing Body-Worn Camera Automation

Even in just the past year, more intelligent technology has been developed and made available for body-worn cameras. This technology includes activating cameras using computer-aided dispatch (CAD) calls, which allows for even more automation based on policy. CAD activation automatically records when an officer receives a CAD call for service. Action zones now automatically turn the camera on to record when an officer enters a predefined geographical area, such as a neighborhood experiencing an active shooter event. Action zones can be created manually or from a CAD call for service.

Smart holster sensors with gunshot detection can now activate body-worn camera recording. When this activation is used, the camera also recalls two minutes of audio and video before the incident, providing context to the situation that caused the officer to draw his or her firearm. Additionally, if a gunshot is detected, the gunshot technology sensor alerts all nearby officers and dispatch.

These technologically advanced automatic recording activations through software-driven solutions have significantly advanced the body-worn camera industry with regard to Policy-Based Recording. Additionally, officer down and smart holster sensor alerts and activation provide new increased safety measures for officers and the public alike.

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 those police chiefs have the video they need at the most critical moments and in full compliance with agency policy. 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.

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