Smile for the camera

May 17, 2016

Iwon’t go out of my way to appear on screen. If I’m being recorded for some well-planned, formal thing, ok. If it’s an intimate family affair…sure. But you won’t find me volunteering to audition for the next big reality show.
The other day I was on a walk when, to my surprise, I saw eight deer just hanging out in the city park. I chatted for a bit with the police officer parked nearby. He told me they were, in fact, regulars. Simple interaction and I proceeded on my way. But later I pondered the tiny lens on his chest.
The body camera industry is booming, of course—thanks to policies requiring officers to don the technology as easily as they would don a badge. Houston PD just deployed its first wave of 4,100 body cameras to be distributed to all first-line officers over the next 18 months. Their policy requires officers to wear it for all law enforcement related activities. Specifically, it should be worn on the chest so it is visible to anyone interacting with police. The benefits are well known by now: transparency, an accurate recounting of events, evidence.
Just to play devil’s advocate, I guess, I’m interested in what some of the other ramifications (or challenges) might be. When I think about a typical day for a police officer I don’t think about a dramatic use-of-force scenario, rather I think about the officer chatting with passerby’s, pulling over speeders, interviewing victims and witnesses. Which leads me to wonder: at some level and in some instances, could cameras chip away at trust?
Consider an interview with subjects in a domestic dispute, or in an immigrant community. Might folks withhold information or wonder whether the video will someday find its way to YouTube? The Battered Women’s Justice Project (BWJP) is one org looking at how body cams figure into domestic and sexual assault investigations, when privacy/confidentiality/intimidation concerns are top-of-mind.
Before body cameras such interviews may have been a bit more intimate. Think, too, about discretion. Before body cameras an officer might use her discretion to give a “pass” to a first-time, low-level offender. Would the same officer—with a camera—not take any chances with her career? Perhaps that’s the goal—to level the playing field.
One unintended consequence of body cameras might be a more concerted effort on the part of officers to strike a balance between transparency and confidence.
How will you make folks feel more comfortable when they talk to you (and your camera)?

About the Author

Sara Scullin

Sara Scullin was the Editor of Law Enforcement Technology magazine, a monthly business-to-business publication that covers technology trends and best practices for public safety managers. LET is part of SouthComm Law Enforcement Media, which also publishes Law Enforcement Product News and Sara had covered the law enforcement industry since March 2008.

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