Police Body Worn Cameras: Essential Technology or Expensive Albatross
A Richmond (VA) Police Lieutenant arrives at the scene of a call for service to find one of her officers handcuffing a suspect, who has extensive bruising on his face, and arms, and is visibly angry, claiming that the officer used unnecessary force and assaulted him. Just two years ago (2017) the investigation into this incident would have required several weeks, and its outcome would be been largely dependent on the interpretation of the (likely contradictory) statements made by the arrestee, the officer, any nearby witnesses, and perhaps the existence of cell phone video. Given this ambiguity it is easy to foresee a result that would have left one or both parties aggrieved, and the Department’s determination questioned by the community. Today, that same officer is equipped with a body worn camera which recorded the incident from the officer’s perspective, and allows the Lieutenant, and investigators to review the video evidence and make a timely and accurate determination of culpability without the heavy reliance on he said – she said statements, or unreliable witness accounts. If, the video shows that the officer did indeed use excessive force, he can be held accountable and disciplined. Alternatively, if appropriate force was used, the video shields the officer from an erroneous allegation of misconduct. Finally, if the investigative results are questioned, the Department can release the Body Camera Video thereby demonstrating transparency and building credibility and trust with the community. Since their introduction on the market in the early 2000s, Body Worn Cameras (BWCs) have been touted as the solution for providing a clear, complete, and unbiased record of police officer’s actions. This technology has been endorsed by citizen advocacy groups, as well as law enforcement professionals, and was prominently featured in the 2015 President’s Task Force on Policing Report. (Policing, 2015). However, the decision to implement this potentially transformative technology is not trivial as significant investment of time, capital, and human resources are required. In this proposal, we analyze the benefits and challenges that BWCs present for one agency the Richmond Virginia Police Department (RPD) as it considers expansion of its BWC program from the present pilot phase, to a full Department wide deployment. We examine the financial and technical aspects of implementing this technology, as well as the ethical concerns that BWCs introduce. The purpose of this proposal is to identify whether the full implementation of BWCs is a feasible endeavor for the RPD and whether this technology can in fact address one of the Department’s most pressing issues; transparency and accountability.
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