Hype surrounding use of body cameras premature

April 17, 2015
Despite numerous calls for their implementation, adoption of body-worn surveillance cams still in the infancy stage

No matter what news channel you turn on your television today, you'll be sure to see some news snippet about how a police officer has done something wrong... or questionable.  That news snippet will be accompanied by some opinion on how police mistakes could all be changed if we could just put a wearable body cam on every cop in the country.  Some "experts" will go further and say that the officers should never be able to turn the cams off and that they should run from the start to the end of a shift without pause.  Obviously, they haven't considered the full depth of their statements and all of its implications.

First, body cams have limitations that won't address every public concern.  Static surveillance cameras, as most people think of them, have even more challenges.  Due to the limits of lens views, anywhere from 17 degrees to 180 degrees, there's no way for a single camera to show the complete environment. Why? Because the operational environment is 360 degrees on the horizontal plane and 360 degrees on the vertical plane.

Second, cameras are typically mounted and fixed to look in a single direction unless a user manually adjusts the point of focus.  It's entirely possible for a wearable body camera to be facing one direction while the officer is taking action in a different direction, out of the view of the camera.

Third, with a growing demand for constant wear of body camera and the accompanying demand for them to run every minute the officer is on duty (as unrealistic as that might be when you take privacy into consideration), along with the demand that the captured video be stored and recorded for an indefinite period of time, what you end up with is huge amounts of digital data that has to be stored in redundancy yet accessible with relative ease to authorized personnel.

Finally, any digital cameras - body worn or otherwise - need to seamlessly integrate with any other evidence collection, access control, assert tracking or other systems that the user is leveraging.  All of this equates to far more than, "put a camera on every cop," or "mount a surveillance camera on every corner."

The use of digital cameras for surveillance, investigative or activity tracking needs to evolve into a more complete system with defined goals, controls and policies. The policies need to cover everything related to the use of the cameras, the handling of the captured videos, storage of the same, access of the same and, perhaps most importantly, when release of that digital data will occur and under what circumstances. Let's be realistic: No static camera will ever replace the presence of a uniformed officer or guard, but the camera can enhance the deterrent capabilities of them. No body-worn camera will ever capture 100 percent of an officer's perspective because perspective is both subjective and specific, where video is concerned only through the eyes.

This reality leaves us in a unique position as we, the entire industry of camera developers, manufacturers and users, evolve the role of cameras in the security and law enforcement fields. Technology development is in danger of enabling capabilities that might not, in the long run, be to the greatest benefit of law enforcement or society.  That same technology might be exactly what's needed in the realm of corporate security because of the intricacy of detail that we now have available.

The bottom line is that there are cameras on the market that have features some agencies or companies simply don't need right now.  That could change next week, next month, next year or next decade.  Eventually it will grow and evolve and we have to stay abreast of the developing tech so we can evolve our best practices around this exploding market.

About the Author

Frank Borelli | Editor-in-Chief, Officer.com

Lt. Frank Borelli (ret) is the Editor In Chief for Officer.com, and has been producing equipment evaluations and articles for the police and military communities since 1999. Pulling on his 7 years of military service, more than 25 years of police experience and over 20 years of instructor experience, he stays active in police work, training, and writing.