Officer Body-Worn Cameras

As a result of the national debate over several high profile police shootings and police interactions with citizens over the last couple of years, body cameras became a hot topic across the country and for law enforcement.  In early 2015, the Sterling Police Department began looking into the feasibility of such a program to include all the pros and cons. 

After months of research and program development into the complex operational, technical, legal and privacy issues associated with the implementation of a professional Body Worn Camera Program, the Sterling Police Department implemented their Body Worn Camera Program on May 18th, 2016. 

The Sterling Police Department adopted TASER’s Axon Platform, Next Generation Body 2 Cameras. They are a premier provider of leading edge technology providing rugged, reliable equipment that are worn by all sworn members in the patrol division. The cameras are used in accordance with policy and have become an important law enforcement tool. The cameras are to be worn on the chest area of the officers. 

The cameras aid in investigations by capturing video of incidents in real time, help in the collection of evidence, memorialize information at crime scenes and improve the ability to identify suspects and enhance the accuracy of victim and witness statements. The body camera video also provide prosecutors with an additional investigative tool in court proceedings. The cameras can improve public and officer safety while enhancing transparency, accountability and trust. 

While body worn camera footage is a useful tool in providing clarity about police interactions, it does have limitations. The camera video cannot provide all the information needed to make a fair and accurate judgment about police activity. Video is part of the investigation; it does not replace a thorough investigation. 

Some limitations of BWC video include: 

  • The camera does not necessarily reveal what the officer perceived or what was in his mind. The camera does not follow the officer’s eyes, see exactly what he/she sees, or record physiological and psychological stress that may affect the officer’s perceptions.
  • The camera cannot record sensory cues (such as physical resistance or tension), only visual cues.
  • In low light, the camera may see more clearly than a human being.
  • Cameras record two-dimensionally. This means viewers may not be able accurately to judge distances from footage in addition to altering other perceptions.
  • Cameras process differently as they do not have the power of the human brain. Although video seems to be one fluid file, it is actually a series of single images or frames, with tiny pauses in between them. In other instances the camera may pick up things the human brain might miss. For example an officer intensely focused on one thing may not see something completely obvious to an observer viewing the video of the incident.
  • Lenses can get obstructed and technology breaks. 

In a statement released by Sterling Police Chief Tyson Kerr in May, he said, "The Sterling Police Department looks forward to the implementation of our BWC program, as it will help to better serve the citizens of our community. I look at body worn cameras as an additional tool to support the professionalism that already exists here, while adding an extra layer of accountability, and enhancing our ability to quickly get to the bottom of problems when they arise."

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