Many people know Wichita, Kansas, as the “air capital of the world,” or as the birthplace of both White Castle and Pizza Hut. Wyatt Earp also worked as a Wichita police officer long before the famed 1881 shootout at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. More recently, we recognize Wichita as an early adopter and innovator of police body-worn cameras (BWCs).
In January of 2020, the National Police Foundation (NPF), in partnership with Arnold Ventures, co-sponsored a one-day conference, “Police Body-Worn Cameras: What Have We Learned Over Ten Years of Deployment?” This forum explored what we have learned about body cameras—both through scientific research and law enforcement practice—in the years since their deployment, as well as considerations for future implementation.
Video technology has been an important public safety tool for decades. From the earliest closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems in correctional facilities to in-dash cameras in police vehicles, video technology has been used to deter criminal behavior, document encounters or behaviors of interest, and to investigate and solve crimes. The current iteration of video technology in public safety is body-worn cameras (BWC). The use of BWCs dates back to 2005 when small-scale tests were conducted in police departments in the United Kingdom (Goodall, 2007).
Though the research on BWCs has grown at an exponential rate over the past five years, there has been virtually no discussion about the training used by departments. This is a crucial oversight, given that any program or policy cannot succeed without effective training. We conducted an online survey of agencies receiving federal funds for BWCs to understand the type of training offered to officers, what this training entails, and how frequently training is provided. Responses from nearly 100 agencies indicate several key trends:
Body-worn cameras (BWCs) represent one of the most important advancements in policing over the past century, and they present formidable challenges on several fronts –community engagement, policy development and implementation, equipment selection and purchase costs, equipment maintenance and storage costs, privacy concerns, training, impacts and coordination across the justice system, program assessment, and more.
High-profile critical incidents and crises threatening the safety, integrity, reputation, and standing of a law enforcement agency typically generate intense public scrutiny of a department. How department leaders respond to the community during these difficult times can affect public trust and, ultimately, support for the agency. This makes crisis communication and proactive outreach an integral part of its operations; however, this aspect is often overlooked.
As a part of the Body-Worn Camera (BWC) Training and Technical Assistance (TTA) Program, funded sites can request an on-site TTA meeting. During these meetings, sites receive assistance and presentations from CNA’s cadre of subject experts on topics relevant to their departments. These topics range from community and media engagement, data management, and public release issues to prosecutor engagement, training, and officer buy-in. The subject experts in attendance facilitate the presentations and encourage discussion among the audience.
More and more police departments are equipping their officers with body-worn cameras. To maximize the utility of body-cams, designers have considered issues such as camera-mounting position, camera-mount stability, methods of activation, and data transfer methods. The human factors/ergonomics community can make important contributions to the design of body-worn cameras and identify and address issues that could arise from the introduction of new technologies (e.g., biometric identification and automatic detection of concealed weapons).
In January 2015, the Boston Police Department (BPD) committed to implement a pilot body worn camera (BWC) program for its officers. This pilot was intended to help answer policy questions about how the system would operate if and when fully implemented across the department’s 2,100 officers and to address concerns of officers and community members on the use of the technology. Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and Boston Police Commissioner William Evans committed to a rigorous evaluation of this pilot program. The BPD implemented its BWC pilot program in September 2016.
The use of cameras by police departments — whether body-mounted or on automobile dashboards — has become much more common in just the past few years. Now, some cities and towns — including Williams, Arizona — are testing gun-mounted cameras as an innovation.Will they be more effective? What are the concerns and possible pitfalls? Listen as Michael White, professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at ASU, talks about these questions.