Protecting Those Who Protect the Public

Body cameras for police officers have been a great topic of conversation and public debate the past several years. From the perspective of many both in law enforcement and those seeking police accountability, there’s really not much to debate. On the side of the law, the majority of police officers are honest, dedicated public servants who not only put their lives at risk protecting the public but now put their careers and reputations in jeopardy every time they interact with law breakers. In the current political environment, those seeking to avoid accountability for their crimes merely need to make insinuations of misconduct to distract from their misdeeds. They are cheered on by an uninformed section of the public who are driven more by emotion than by facts and logic or who are motivated by political ambitions that are easily furthered by vilifying those who enforce the law. To use an old adage, a picture is worth a thousand words and it’s pretty hard to claim that something happened when there is video showing exactly what did happen.

On the side of the public, documented cases of police corruption are frequently cited in their calls for more accountability. They are under the misconception that the majority of police are criminals themselves who need to be held accountable. They believe that outfitting police with body cameras will either bring to light the number of law enforcement officers who break the rules or at least get them to think twice before breaking the rules.

The reality is that there’s truth on both sides but we would contend that the majority of the benefit goes to the police. Are most police corrupt? Absolutely not! Those with even a basic understanding of the social contract understand that in a civilized society, the number of those who uphold the principles and values of that society must far outnumber those who do not in order for it to be successful. This is particularly important among those who enforce that society’s laws. To put it simply, the social contract doesn’t demand perfection, just that the good far outweigh the bad so that the society can continue to progress and be civilized. We feel that it’s safe to say that wearing a body camera probably will decrease the already isolated incidences of proven misconduct by prompting greater consideration before an officer embarks upon a course of action they may later regret. Use of body cameras will appease those who feel that misconduct is widespread while protecting officers from false allegations and ultimately weeding out those few who truly do engage in misconduct.

Let’s examine a recent, very public case where police body cameras would likely have had a huge impact. In August of 2014, Ferguson, MO police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot and killed Michael Brown. Brown was suspected of shoplifting in a nearby convenience store. When officer Wilson attempted to stop and question him, he was attacked by Brown who nearly succeeded in gaining possession of Officer Wilson’s weapon. The weapon discharged, slightly wounding Brown who then attempted to flee. Wilson gave chase but was forced to shoot and kill him when Brown turned to confront him and charged him again. Officer Wilson was cleared of any wrongdoing in the shooting and a grand jury declined to indict him. This event ultimately led to rioting, protests around the country and the end of Officer Wilson’s career with the department out of concern for his safety. It also led to many more arrests and continued violence for months. Imagine how differently this might have gone had the Officer been equipped with a body camera.

This is just one of many cases in recent years and in the current culture that thrives in crime ridden neighborhoods, protests and accusations are becoming far more prevalent every time an officer has to use force to protect themselves or others. It’s true that there have been cases where police authority has been abused and though they are a small percentage of the overall equation, they are quickly and easily cited as red-herring outliers to incite public emotion. For many, it really doesn’t matter whether a perpetrator is guilty or innocent, it’s about retribution for perceived past injustices.

Consider the OJ Simpson case. 20+ years later, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t believe that he actually did murder his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman but at the time he was acquitted, there were massive celebrations in the streets and a prevailing attitude within certain communities that true justice had been served. His defense was spearheaded by lawyer Johnny Cochran who built his career pursuing justice for those wronged by police misconduct. Ultimately, the victims of the original crime were relegated to collateral damage in a fight for what was perceived as social justice. The old saying, “two wrongs don’t make a right” comes to mind. We at Senworth feel that the use of body cameras is imperative in protecting your department’s good and honest officers from becoming collateral damage for someone else’s social cause.

You are protecting your officers from basic human nature. Self-preservation is a well-documented human tendency. If you are a parent, just think about how your children respond when you ask them to clean up after themselves or do any chores as their contribution to the running of the household. There are many lessons about human nature that can be learned as a parent. Has one of your kids ever punched another and then blamed them for some inconsequential reason? Most people grow out of that sort of behavior under the teaching and guidance of their parents. Those who don’t often become criminals and will look for any excuse to avoid responsibility for their actions.

This is what you are up against. You want to be able to hire and retain good people. How easy will that be as potential officers grow up watching good police being vilified and losing their careers in increasing numbers based on allegations of misconduct? It will only continue to happen because it’s been proven to work. How will this ultimately impact your overall ability to enforce the law in general? We contend that there is a proven way to combat this and it is through the use of body cameras and a well-designed security and privacy policy to safeguard their use and the content obtained through them.

The CATO Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project had this to say:

  • “A fairly common recommendation for reducing police misconduct is to increase use of body cameras. By recording police-citizen encounters, police supervisors, judges, reporters, and others can get objective evidence of what happened instead of self-serving hearsay.” (CATO Institute, n.d.)

One of the primary concerns cited by the CATO Institute is privacy.

  • “It is especially important that body camera policies be public because the nature of a police officer’s job means that he will often see citizens at tragic and embarrassing moments. There is an understandable concern related to the release of footage involving not only victims of crime but also children, accidents, and the inside of private residences, hospitals, and schools.” (CATO Institute, n.d.)

It’s nearly impossible to deny the benefits of body cameras and these privacy concerns are being addressed effectively so that this use can continue.

  • “Lawmakers across the U.S. have responded to privacy concerns in a variety of ways. In North Dakota the governor signed a bill exempting police body camera footage “taken in a private place” from public record requests, while in Florida and Michigan lawmakers introduced bills which would limit the release of police body camera footage captured inside a citizen’s home. Florida’s bill, SB 248, would also limit the release of footage captured within “health care, mental health care, or social services” facilities as well as “at the scene of a medical emergency involving a death or involving an injury that requires transport to a medical facility.” Proposed New Hampshire legislation would require police officers to wear body cameras, but would exempt the footage from public record requests. Civil liberty groups and non-profits have also made body camera policy proposals. Police Executive Research Forum published a paper on implementing a police body camera policy, which recommended that some recordings should be prohibited. Among the recordings PERF recommended prohibiting are those of strips searches, conversations with informants, and those that take place “where a reasonable expectation of privacy exists.” (CATO Institute, n.d.)

It appears clear that a great deal of thought is being put into crafting policies and laws to protect the privacy of those who come in contact with law officers equipped with this great technology. In many ways, instituting a body camera policy has benefits that go far beyond just protecting your officers. They also engender public trust through transparency. International internet-based research firm YouGov highlights the public sentiment toward their use:

  • YouGov’s latest research shows that support for body cameras for police officers is very high. 88% of Americans support the idea while only 7% oppose it. Support is very high regardless of demographic group, too, and even though issues of policing and law enforcement often prompt significant partisan disagreement both Democrats (91%) and Republicans (88%) are overwhelmingly in favor of body cameras for police officers. (Moore, 2015)
  • It’s rare that this level of consensus can be achieved across so many groups. As previously stated, Senworth believes that the greatest benefit of this technology will be realized by police departments and prosecutors but we find it encouraging that the general public is willing to rely upon its capabilities.
  • A commonly cited police body camera study was conducted in Rialto, California between February 2012 and February 2013. For the purposes of the trial, 54 front line officers were randomly assigned to either wear body cameras or to not wear the cameras during their shifts. Researchers examined 988 shifts. During these shifts, officers wore body cameras in 489 and did not in 499. Researchers compared the number of use-of-force incidents and complaints against police in the trial period to several previous years. The results, based on data from the trial, are below. (Barak Ariel, 2014)

These results seem to clearly indicate that officers wearing body cameras had less complaints filed against them. Whether this is due to the realization by those they came in contact with that there was video available to provide a clear record of the situation and thus discouraging dishonest claims or their presence just encouraged the officers to be more cautious in their interaction, the end result is a clear win for the department and the legal system when it came to prosecuting offenders. We are not delving deeply into the prosecutorial advantages provided by body cams in this paper because those seem fairly self-evident and our purpose with this is to explore the immediate benefits to officers wearing them, their departments and the public perception regarding their use.

Senworth designs our product with the needs of police officers in enforcing the law and protecting their reputations in mind. We take an end-to-end approach to security, particularly at the user level. We have implemented policies and data center practices that have helped us to achieve SAS 70 Type II compliance throughout the stack. We are CJIS, FEDRAMP, and HIPPA compliant. Our security policy contains a multi-layer approach.

Before any video file upload can occur, we create a secure account for each officer. Upon request, our system generates an email which is then sent directly to them. This email contains two pieces of information, the first being a random code and the second, a link. The link opens a secure web page from our server. The code is then entered by the officer to ensure we have the correct user. The officer is then able to set up a complex and secure password.

Once the account is set up is completed, each officer/user will then have access to Senworth’s evidence management and cloud storage. This is our first layer of security. Once that process is complete, we assign the officer a camera. The next layer of security requires each camera to have a unique ID and be password protected, blocking any access to the content contained on it were it to be lost or stolen. The officer can then record video as they go about their daily duties. At the end of their shift, they upload the content to the cloud by connecting the camera to a docking station.

The docking stations run Windows 10 Professional and are also password protected which is the third security layer. Users do not have access to information on the docking station, it can only be given to key administrators. The docking station will query the system once every minute to see if new cameras have been connected. As new cameras are detected, the software interacts with each of them as if they were a secure flash drive. The software retrieves the stored videos and then places them on the Senworth hard drive which then uploads them automatically to our secure cloud storage service. The upload program initially connects to our webserver to request a token which must authenticate itself on our server
{Client certificate authentication). The docking station cannot access our cloud service without providing this authentication. Once the video is stored in our secure system, it is protected at both the platform and cloud levels and is added directly into each officer’s assigned file with correct timestamp and other general information.

Conclusion

Police body cameras offer a multitude of benefits, primarily to law enforcement officers and prosecutors. They can protect an officer from false allegations, a departments from liability and ensure a conviction. In the big picture, they can help heal relations between the police and the public by providing transparency. Privacy and security concerns are being addressed across all jurisdictions and public support is such thatfunding and budget concerns should be easily overcome. The signs seem to support the notion that body cams will become as much of a standard piece of equipment as radios and handcuffs. The question really isn’t so much “if” as “when?”. We maintain that the “when” is preferably before any more officers face potentially career ending allegations or your department faces embarrassment or worse. Senworth’s service includes 24/7 customer support, free software upgrades and free replacement during your contract period. We stand behind our product and stress that a primary component of that product is security and peace of mind for the agencies who rely on us. Try Senworth today and protect those who serve and the people that they serve!