On-Body Video: Eye Witness or Big Brother?
Officer-worn video technology is coming of age, but will agencies and officers embrace it and use it properly?
Agencies must realize that video files require expensive server storage to keep evidence on site. VieVu and TASER offer cloud storage and file management solutions as an alternative. Cloud storage offers highly secure storage at a cost that could be prohibitive for budget-strapped agencies. An hour of video can require up to a gigabyte of hard-drive space. If tens or even hundreds of officers make videos every shift, you can see how data files add up quickly.
Most law enforcement agencies have procedures in place that cover the handling of digital media. A generally accepted practice is to burn the digital evidence onto a CD or DVD and impound it in the property room. There, it is cataloged, tracked, and made available for court. Under this system, digital files take up real estate in the evidence room. Staff must impound and catalog the disks, check them out of evidence, carry them to court, and dispose or archive them when the case is adjudicated.
TASER’s cloud-based Evidence.com is a video storage solution available for agencies using on-body video. The site eliminates the need for on-site storage space by storing the files off-site and allowing agencies to share the files via secure access to the server. Prosecutors can simply log into a remote portal and get the videos they need for their cases. Additionally, the system tracks every activity associated with every file and stores it in an audit log.
Video storage and evidence management on site is expensive and difficult to implement. So if a department considers every aspect of making and managing video evidence, it may conclude that a full software and storage package is the most economical solution. Smaller agencies with smaller deployments may choose to keep the systems they have in place.
Many departments implemented policy decisions when acquiring earlier-generation video systems that will now need revising.
Officers Worry About ‘Big Brother’
Body-worn cameras bring up new challenges because they’re always present in an officer’s personal space. That makes some officers uncomfortable, because they may not be on their best behavior at all times.
Most officers have no trouble acting professional when in the public eye or speaking to a citizen, but they may not want everything recorded outside of those encounters. And police labor organizations have objected to departments mandating that their members wear cameras. This “big brother” issue may be the biggest consideration for when and how the video cameras are used. It affects the officers, supervisors and the evidence managers.
TASER’s Tuttle recently sat down with representatives of police supervisors and unions for a frank discussion. Rank-and-file officers most often said they didn’t want to get into trouble for something that they said on video. Specifically, the officers worried that command staff would monitor their language and object to F-bombs they used to accentuate their points when under stress. The supervisors said that they weren’t interested in the occasional F-bomb. They said they were more interested in keeping officers safe and accountable, and they want better documentation of critical incidents.
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