SHOULD KCPD INTRODUCE OFFICER BODY CAMERAS?
Yesterday (January 22, 2015), I had the opportunity to participate in a roundtable discussion with the Kansas City Police Department and many community leaders to discuss possible use of body cameras by police officers. This meeting was not an announcement by KCPD that body cameras will be used. Instead, KCPD was asking for comments from community leaders to understand the potential benefits and shortcomings of such a program.
Present were representatives from several Kansas City organizations including NAACP, Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, ACLU, Clay County Prosecutor’s Office, 49/63 Neighborhood Coalition, and Eastwood Hills Neighborhood (among others). While this does not represent an official position by the KCPD or any organization present, I came away with the following impressions:
At the meeting, everyone acknowledged that recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and protests against police brutality have brought the discussion of body camera usage by law enforcement to the forefront.
Also acknowledged during the discussion was a heightened level distrust of police, raising the demand for body cameras.
Everyone who spoke at the meeting understood potential benefits to having police officers wear body cameras. Potential benefits include:
- better behavior by both police officers and citizens when a camera is rolling.
- improved accountability of an officer’s actions in a controversial situation (officer involved shooting or allegations of excessive force)
- Improved transparency of police procedures in a given situation/event.
- Prosecutors present said body camera footage serves as great evidence in support of charges against a criminal defendant.
- Having video to review assists police officers provide more accurate accounts and reports of an event/crime.
Some concerns raised include:
- Whether police officers will be given discretion to start and stop recording, which raises the questions: “what isn’t on the video?”
- Will body cameras be used in all police interaction with the community?
- How will the use of body cameras affect interaction between police and community? If a camera is always recording, will a community member be more or less forthcoming to report a crime?
- How do we protect victims and anonymous witnesses?
- What will police departments do to protect citizens caught on camera but not subject to investigation?
- How will the hours of footage be used by police? Will facial recognition software be used on all footage?
- How does KCPD balance safety of officers in a violent setting with proposed policy that police actions be recorded? Are officers to forego personal safety to ensure a camera is functioning?
Other questions that need to be addressed include:
Video storage will be kept on 3rd party servers - just like dashboard footage is now. Who will pay for storing triple the amount of data?
How will KCPD pay for the additional upkeep of cameras, special hardware to sync video footage, redaction of sensitive images?
How can KCPD protect video evidence from (electronic/digital) corruption or hackers?
How long will footage be retained by the police?
Does the technology exist (affordably) to implement body cameras for KCPD’s entire police force? Standard shifts are 10 hours long, can cameras record for 10 hours straight? Do standard body cameras have sufficient storage space? Is there sufficient battery life?
In speaking with KCPD administrators and IT representatives, I was told that non-stop recording was unrealistic because standard body cameras on the market today have recording time of approximately 6 - 8 hours while standard shifts for police officers are 10 hours long. So, how does the department eliminate liability and second-guessing of police action if recording is at the discretion of the officer?
The meeting ended with more questions than solutions. As there is no timeframe set for body cameras to be used by the department, additional meetings and discussions will be necessary to understand the potential impact of such a program. Most people agreed that, whether or not body cameras will be used, improved police outreach is necessary to build trust within the community.
It will be very interesting to see how this discussion evolves and what the ultimate decision will be.