POLICE AND THE USE OF BODY CAMERAS

In my last post I addressed the need for law enforcement to engage immediately during the initial stages of civil disturbances. I also discussed how public comments by some may influence that response. To read the article, please click on this link to my website: http://www.billcweiss.com

A key tool to assist law enforcement in recording their everyday contact with others is the use of the controversial body camera, which continues to be a hot topic of debate.

With the demand for more transparency in law enforcement and the constant challenge to officers’ credibility while performing their daily functions, especially concerning incidents involving the use of force, there is no greater time than now to accept this tool as a necessity.

Through my experiences as a patrol deputy and supervisor, which include investigating citizen complaints, allegations of misconduct, and the application of force, I can tell you that this tool is a necessity in today’s world. Years ago the simple use of a tape recorder by patrol deputies during their contacts allowed me to solve many investigations. A majority of these recordings supported the decisions, actions, tone of voice, and statements made by the deputies who were accused of improper conduct.

A good number of these incidents I found involved poor communication, misunderstandings, and unreasonable expectations by the parties involved. These recordings also allowed me to uncover those instances when the performance and actions of the deputy were not in line with policy and procedures. This included those involving unnecessary or excessive force.

Video recordings, cell phone footage, and surveillance camera recordings naturally provide a better understanding of incidents. All of these tools are invaluable in today’s world of transparency demands, misconduct allegations, and lawsuits.

Even for the mostly highly trained and experienced officers, it is human nature and normal during adrenaline-producing incidents of high stress, split second decision making, and life and death situations, for officers not to remember every detail of an incident. For example, the recall of how many times or where exactly they struck a suspect with a baton, or how many times they fired their weapons may not always be accurate.

This doesn’t mean the officers were lying or trying to conceal anything. With the recent incidents of perjury, improper tactics and application of force by some officers, this is what many believe is occurring as law enforcement is tainted all the same with a broad stroke of the brush. You may have seen role playing simulations and force training scenarios demonstrated on television with every day citizens or news reporters. Ask the media reporters and others who have participated how difficult it was to determine if someone was armed, or remember exactly how many times they shot at an alleged suspect.

Without question today’s law enforcement environment requires the use of body cameras for officers as a necessary survival tool. Officers should also be allowed to review the body camera footage while preparing their reports, in order to assist them in remembering all the details of an incident. This being said, there are several legal and privacy issues to be determined governing whether all or some of these body camera recordings should be shared with the public and if so, when this should occur. (I will address this issue in a future posting).

Video footage should be treated as all other forms of evidence submitted by officers with their police/arrest (incident) reports. They collect it, observe it, tag it, record and document it, and submit it with their report. The evidence is secured and goes through a chain of command and control before the court process is played out. Body camera video footage should be no different.

In the Los Angeles Times Opinion Section (page A21), dated August 24, 2015, an outstanding article written by Dan Simon and Jim Bueermann, “The right body camera policy,” discusses the use of body cameras. They advocate the officers’ rights to review the footage of their use of force incidents before writing their incident reports. I definitely agree. The article discusses the pros and cons, human memory issues, dishonesty, and other factors used in their analysis.  The article is a must read for all, including police officials dealing with these tough issues. Click here for the online link: http://www.latimes.com./

My next posting will discuss the recent public conversations on curtailing police stops. Some are questioning what constitutes a legitimate stop when police are conducting traffic stops and detaining people on the street. #bodycameras

 

As a retired Lieutenant and 32-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Bill Weiss worked various patrol, custody, administrative, investigative, and special assignments. He has been an Incident Commander for several major tactical incidents. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California, with a Master’s degree in Public Administration.

http://www.billcweiss.com

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