Jason Dombkowski, Chief (Ret.), City of West Lafayette, Indiana
As you think about your career in law enforcement, there may be some questions on your mind regarding doing your job efficiently and effectively. What current role does technology play in law enforcement? How do we answer community calls for accountability and transparency? How do we protect officers and have their backs every day, particularly during extreme situations?
During my time as president of the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police in 2018 and afterward, I found it impactful to build connections with community leaders and influencers in Indiana. I meet with state and national leaders from the NAACP, the ACLU, and other community organizations to discuss their concerns and suggestions around policing and create a space for open dialogue. During those conversations, I discovered that many community stakeholder organizations across the United States have a similar desire for law enforcement body-worn camera programs that limit officer discretion of when to record. They express that they want consistency—the same rules, regulations, and operating procedures for all agencies in a given state through accreditation standards. They also express a desire to have a voice in how officers interact with the community and a clean process for reporting negative interactions with officers.
Body-worn cameras are mandatory in eight states across the United States. Most large agencies have body-worn camera programs in place as part of their technology-driven approach to modern policing, but do these programs meet today’s policing challenges? Do the systems in place match the policies on the books at the agency? Are the policies and technology evolving at the same rate? Most agencies already have policies in place to meet legal requirements and, hopefully, community expectations, but the challenge is ensuring the technology and those policies align.
Law enforcement agencies are now faced with the possibility of merging changes to policy and technology. In the past, the two were mutually exclusive. As tech has become advanced, the ability to adjust both policy and technology has evolved. Many agencies are in different places when it comes to policy. Accreditation standards vary, as do community expectations.
Consider conducting ongoing conversations with your community stakeholders can help your agency understand community expectations for accountability and transparency. Every community is different. Find out from your citizens what they expect from your agency. Based on that feedback and those expectations, craft and implement a policy that meets the expectations community groups have for recording encounters of officers and citizens. Community input is critical for policy-based recording to meet the expectations of your neighborhoods and your specific community.
- If your agency already has a recording policy in place, has your agency experienced any pain points?
- Has your agency had incidents where body-worn cameras have not been activated or have failed to record an incident in the field, in spite of your policy?
- Has your agency had issues with body-worn cameras falling off officers’ uniforms in the field, which has prevented recording policy compliance?
- Does your agency’s technology provide the option to have the video when it’s needed or the ability to view the video in real-time?
- When were your agency’s recording and use-of-force polices last updated and do they work in concert with one another via your agency’s technology?
- When there is a high-profile incident in your community, are you confident your agency will have the video? Does your policy require you to have the video?
- Does your policy match reality in the field?
- What are your agency’s plans to respond if you do NOT have a video from a high-profile incident?
- Does your agency conduct regular training on policy compliance with your body-worn camera solution?
Administrators sleep better at night when they are confident their policies are being followed in the field. Some of the best training for body-worn camera policy compliance are actual videos that supervisors have marked for training, highlighting officers in compliance with the policy. Body-worn cameras have evolved to address these common recording failures through recent advancements in technology.
- Are the cameras fully charged and ready for use at the start of each shift, and is there the ability to monitor them?
- Are the cameras recording when they are in the field or when officers are responding to calls for service? If not, why not?
Connected body-worn camera solutions allow for real-time situational awareness of the status of your cameras and GPS visibility of all of your officers in the field in real-time. Today’s advanced body-worn camera solutions and digital evidence management systems have the ability to provide complete situational awareness on one pane of glass in a command center, dispatch center, desktop computer, or in the field on MDTs and mobile devices. Additionally, securely connected smart body-worn cameras now make docking stations obsolete by offloading data instantly from the camera in the field to the cloud via the cellular network.
Is your agency testing its technology for policy compliance, and are your supervisors performing audits? Is there an audit trail available? The evolution of digital evidence management systems allows for detailed audit trails and instant daily compliance reports on software-based, cloud-based systems that allow you to access these reports in real-time, from anywhere.
Place yourself at the press conference podium as you consider the policy and technology considerations referenced here and how they may add efficiency and effectiveness to your agency’s body-worn camera program. As leaders in law enforcement, there are times when we must stand behind the podium and speak to our communities, especially during turbulent times, stressful times—even the worst of times. We all hope the worst-case scenario never happens, but when it does, will your policies and your technology put your agency in a position to meet the community’s expectations for transparency and accountability? Will you have the video of a use-of-force incident that helps to instill public trust between your agency and the community you serve?
If you give proper consideration to these policy and technology integration opportunities, you will place your agency in the best position for a successful outcome at the podium. It all starts with leadership. The decisions you make now in the policy arena will affect how your agency is able to weather any storm by providing the transparency and accountability tenets your community expects.