Lawmakers in Virginia, Utah, Texas, California, Arizona, Illinois and other states are considering mandates for body worn cameras on officers. President Obama’s request to Congress for $263 million in grant funds to help local agencies purchase body worn video technology has yet to see any meaningful congressional action. Agencies in every state are scrambling to figure out what works for their needs and how to pay for cameras.
Does your agency have discretionary funds to equip every officer with a camera and the supporting back end software? Do you have solid supporting policies in place? What should a law enforcement agency ask when buying a body worn video system?
If your agency does not have a research and development position or division (that’s most of us!), look at some law enforcement agencies who do, such as LAPD, Las Vegas Metro, NYPD, Phoenix PD, or look abroad to the London Metropolitan Police—an agency with a very robust research arm. Look at the systems those agencies or any of the other IACP Major Cities or National Sheriffs Association Major Counties have evaluated and selected.
Most agencies look immediately at the price point to begin the search for a body worn video system. Price is important, but remember that you get what you pay for. Be sure that you are getting what you need. Finding a hole in system security or realizing six months after purchase that you’re running out of server space for storage isn’t a happy ending.
Ask each vendor:
Chain of custody and audit is critical. If evidence does not favor the defense, defense attorneys attack the technology (remember the OJ Simpson trial defense?). The vendor’s system must have an unassailable security suite that ensures confidence in the chain of custody, security and integrity of the evidence.
If you’re considering a hybrid solution—buying a decent camera and managing your own back end video management and storage—ask your staff and your IT support tough questions: What was your last major IT project? Did it come in on time and on budget? How many bug fixes before it worked? How much down time? Is your IT department dependent on that "one guy"? If she or he left, can IT still support your system efficiently?
Have more questions than answers? There are resources. The Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths will hold the first national symposium bringing legal experts, policy planners, technical experts and users together to discuss body worn camera issues (including how to select a system for your agency).
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