Explaining the tech and troubles of police body cameras
Explaining the tech and troubles of police body cameras
10:34

Explaining the tech and troubles of police body cameras

Tech Industry
[NOISE] Today half of the nation's law enforcement officers wear cameras. I wanted to better understand the tech behind these body cam systems And more importantly find out are they making a difference? What I learned is the tech itself isn't so much issue, the real problems lie elsewhere. Let's break it down. [MUSIC] In 2014, a white policeman killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri Brown was unarmed and shot six times. There was no video footage of the incident and no charges brought against the officer. Brown's family joined the call for all police to wear body cameras in order to hold them accountable for their actions. You see the theory is simple. Recording camera has the power to change behavior for the better footage can increase transparency to the public and in turn, it improves Community Trust in the police. Right? Well that's quite a heavy mission for one piece. Scitech with the ongoing global protests calling for police reform, more governments are turning to body cameras as a solution. Colorado recently passed a bill that requires all state and local officers to wear cameras by 2023. Congress is proposing legislation, that would require body cams for all federal officers. and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pushing for the same for all Canadian police. But before we can determine if body cameras can make a difference, we need to first go cover how the tech works. There are more than 60 companies now making body cameras. Many are clipped to the chest or the shoulder. But some cameras are embedded in sunglasses and hats. So there is a lot of variation of what officers can wear. There's even some departments using cameras and Mounted on guns, which is pretty new, but most of the tech being deployed today is a camera worn on the body. And most of these cameras do require an officer to manually start and stop the recording. You see that gives an officer the freedom to use discretion when they hit the record button. You may not want to record at certain times. Such as when they are inside a hospital when they are having a private conversation or when they're at lunch. Now there are some models that can be programmed to automatically record when the camera detects an action or if the car reaches a certain speed or when an officer pulls a taser or gun. From the holster, the cameras themselves don't cost that much. The real pain point for budgets is the storage. These cameras require cloud storage for thousands of hours of video you figure that every officer maybe records three or four hours of video in a shift. And how long that video is stored is sometimes set by local guidelines. It could be days, months or years. Now for a large Police Department, storage could run into the millions of dollars. A study by the nonprofit police executive research forum found large departments could spend anywhere from $30,000 to $4 million a year on storage. It's at the point where some departments are pulling out of using cameras. Just because of the costs. A recent report from the Washington Post cited a few examples, the Wahoo, Neb. police department they were looking at $15,000 yearly storage bills for a team of only five officers. Over in Arlington County, Virginia. The police department decided not to use cameras after a pilot program found it would cost $300,000 a year just in cloud costs. There are federal grants that help cover the cost of the equipment, but not for the ongoing storage costs. That's the technology of body camps. But what about the question if these are helping keep police accountable and communities Safer. By one cameras have not delivered on some of the lofty goals that have been set and to be honest, those are not realistic goals. technology like a camera is not gonna Gonna Change decades of tension and antagonism between police and a minority community. That's Mike White, who has been living and breathing this topic for five years. He co wrote a book worked on several studies and helped come up with body cam training programs for police across the country. There are a number of reasons that can Cameras are not curing all the ills and it mostly comes down to how different departments use the cameras. For example, not every department has clear discipline. When an officer doesn't turn on or activate their camera. There's been some study of activation rates. And they vary tremendously. Some officers rarely activate they continually violate the policy day in and day out. Well, other officers activate all the time. And if the department is not tracking activation And it's not responding to officers who have low activation rates. That creates a huge problem in terms of police accountability because it's only a matter of time before you have one of those officers involved in use of force or a critical incident During protests in Louisville, Kentucky police officer Did not have their body cameras on when David Mcatee a local business owner was shot by law enforcement while he was inside his own restaurant. This led to the Louisville Mayor firing the city's chief of police. I learned that the body cameras of the officers present were not activated. This type of institutional failure. Will not be tolerated. The officers that did not turn on their cameras a violation of department policy are placed on leave. Now although Macca T was shot by the National Guard, having cameras on may have given us more answers on what exactly went down when the police also open fire. To not have body cameras on Is unacceptable But let's look at the question of if cameras are a positive influence on changing behavior. There is some positive news here. A number of studies found cameras led to a decrease in public complaints about police officers. So that's something but so far there is a strong data that shows if cameras alone are making. Police act differently and there's no data suggesting people view cops with cameras more favorably. Last year a team at George Mason University looked at 70 different studies done on body camera effects and found there just wasn't enough statistically relevant data to say that body cameras could improve police performance accountability or relationships with citizens. There's also little information about how often the public is granted access to police body cam footage. Here's body cam researcher, Andrea Headley and assistant professor at Georgetown University. One of the things that I have been a little distant Heartened by is that we know so much in the research now about how body cameras impact or don't impact police performance outcomes, right, like arrest us for citations. But we don't know really, what cameras how cameras impact transparency and accountability at all. We don't have any direct measures of How many people have made a request for footages and how those have been denied or allowed or what the processes look like across police departments for accessing videos. Sometimes it takes years for investigative journalists to access body cam footage. The newspaper Dallas Morning News had to fight for three years to get this video, which showed how cops pin 32 year old Tony Tempah until he died. And even when we managed to get the footage it's unclear if departments actually disciplined the officers. That happened after journalists at the New York Times and the intercept discovered that one cop in New York was potentially planted. Drugs on people. [INAUDIBLE] But access to footage is at the discretion of departments. Sometimes there are local and state laws influencing how or if a video is released, and there's no federal law requiring footage to be released. Some cities are starting to take steps in that direction, including the nation's largest police force with nearly 40,000 cops The new policy effective immediately. All video and audio footage of incidents must be released within 30 days. Under public pressure from the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. New York City's Mayor ordered that the NYPD would quickly release body cam footage anytime someone dies or gets seriously hurt by police. But what if body cam footage was actually monitored in real time? Some cameras today have a feature for live streaming. When the camera is activated a supervisor would have the power to just press a button and see what subordinates are doing in real time. But in the end, the tech is only a tool video alone can't bring accountability. If the rules aren't in place to enforce behavior and access to footage as an accountability tool for the community. I think what I'm most concerned with is transparency and the ability to make sure that kind of video footage is made available to the public and the press. Pretty much anytime Folks want to be able to take a look at it. That's Patrick Eddington, a civil liberties and national security policy analyst at the Cato Institute in Washington DC. As we address ways to better implement body cameras, his biggest concern is making sure the public is not restricted in their ability to To record the police with their own cameras, and that's how we have captured so many of these incidents of violence against people in this country, not just people of color primarily people of color unfortunately, but against a lot of citizens has been other folks out there with their smartphones, their cell phones, recording this stuff and for me as a civil libertarian That is the number one thing that I want to ensure that we protect is the ability of folks to record in public. But if we want to actually have body worn cameras be a value. We have to understand that they're only a tool and that the larger issues involve literally changing the nature of policing in this country. Body cameras have potential to help so we shouldn't write them off as useless but until there are changes to how some departments use and release the footage, it's not the body cam that's holding cops accountable. It's the cameras the public is pointing at the cops

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