Briefly, here are the statements and provisions Streicher and Greenwood recommend such a policy contain:
A cross-referencing of other departmental procedures that would overlap where they pertain to OBRS
A reference to specific statutes that pertain to the department’s use of OBRS
An overall purpose statement
An overall policy statement
Clearly outlined declarations of use that include: additional equipment officers are allowed to wear, how the officer will check components to ascertain they are working properly, reviewing videos, trouble-shooting problems, and notifying supervisors when a video recording yields something significant
A provision stating when an officer can deactivate the OBRS
A list of the times and types of incidents when an officer must have the OBRS activated
A caveat restricting officers from using the OBRS for use outside of departmental duties and business
A directive regarding the downloading of video, and control and management of the OBRS
A list of guidelines that govern duplication and use of OBRS, and the video obtained from such equipment in connection with court cases
A policy for handling requests for copies of video obtained from OBRS
A procedure for handling outside agency files
A protocol for the supervision, maintenance and storage of the OBRS
OBRS and use of force
Greenwood, an expert in civil rights, says OBRS grow particularly valuable in cases involving the use of force. “Having a point of view perspective from the officer will become the most critical piece of evidence, and the most critical record of what happened in any given encounter.”
He adds the courts and public have long had access to bystander video and closed circuit video feeds, and while helpful, they’re not the golden ticket that an officer-worn recording system can be.
“As somebody who is in favor of transparency and enhanced accountability, I think that OBRS will be the next technological revolution in law enforcement,” Greenwood says. Streicher agrees and carries it one step further, believing there’s a mandate for agencies to deploy OBRS.
“I don’t think there’s a valid excuse for an agency...to not employ the use of OBRS,” says Streicher. “Technology is not an excuse, money is not an excuse, fear is not an excuse, officer safety is not an excuse—there is simply not an excuse (for not using OBRS).”
The former chief points out the systems can theoretically pay for themselves, and uses 1990s Detroit as an example of a jurisdiction that might have benefitted from OBRS. “The city paid out $124 million in damages as a result of complaints of officer misconduct in a 10-year-period. That’s the cost of doing business when there is no enhanced officer accountability,” he says.
Both Streicher and Greenwood admit the systems are not cheap, but they stress that training can only go so far in limiting liability; officers under continuous scrutiny are less likely to engage in misconduct, thus avoiding the necessity of defending costly lawsuits.
Speaking of liability
Norm Pattis is no stranger to legal controversy. As a well-known and self-admittedly controversial criminal defense attorney, Pattis has represented a number of defendants who’ve claimed they were coerced into talking to police. That’s one reason Pattis believes both law enforcement and the general public could benefit from OBRS: their recording capabilities can help debunk or confirm how a confession is obtained.
And, Pattis says, cameras are already everywhere—why not on an officer’s person? He also takes issue with police objections to the public using cameras and cellphones to videotape officers while they are working.
“I have a hard time understanding why police believe it should be unlawful for another person to record them,” Pattis says. He argues that except for certain cases, like when videotaping obstructs or delays an officer or incites a riot, police should welcome additional evidence that they’re doing their duties in a responsible fashion.