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A video screenshot from the police involved shooting in Caledona, Morvant on June 27.

Following is the second part of an in-depth look at the use of body cameras for TTPS officers. The first was carried in today’s T&T Guardian.

Peter Christopher

[email protected]

Body cameras are not a be-all and end-all solution says the TTPS’s strategic adviser Dwight Andrews.

Speaking during a press conference on June 18, Andrews said this was so particularly if a police officer gets into a confrontational situation where he or she is moving quite aggressively.

“What happens though and what a lot of people don’t understand is that body camera…the actual part of the camera that ends up being used from an evidential point moreso that the camera itself is the sound.”

Despite this, Andrews urged officers to keep wearing them because even though they do not get video, “the audio is extremely important for us when we are evaluating whether that officer would have acted within the bounds of the law etc.”

Police Commissioner Gary Griffith, meanwhile, said it was difficult for an officer to turn on a camera during an ambush.

“What happens is that when a police officer gets ambushed when they get hit in a firefight it is very difficult for an officer to turn on a camera. Likewise, if you are in a firefight, the body camera is not going to assist you because if you have to dive for cover from fire, cover from view, you are going to get blurs.”

The concern about bodycams recording sound instead of video proved true in the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta on June 12. The video footage depicts the initial interaction between Brooks and the police, but when the confrontation became physical the camera fell to the ground and filmed only night sky while the shots that ended Brooks’ life were heard. Security camera footage, however, recorded Brooks being shot by a police officer as he fled with a police taser.

The audio from the body-worn camera served as evidence in the case.

No criminal case in this country’s courts has involved the use of footage from police body cameras, Guardian Media was informed.

Attorneys confirmed there remains significant ambiguity with regard to legislation concerning the use of the cameras in such a setting. This ambiguity, criminologist Daurius Figueira said, would continue to undermine the effectiveness of the technology.

Figueira, giving an example of the use of body cameras in the United States, said, “The United States of America is a society that is highly litigious. So what happens it gives you a record of what transpired in the conduct of any operation involving a member of the police service over there and the public.

“So what happens is that you have bodycam footage that the district attorney can in fact and do present in court as evidence in a trial.

“And then you have bodycam footage that is also subpoenaed by defence attorneys and also presented as evidence for the defence in a trial. So what has happened with bodycam evidence is that it is sought by both sides and utilised by both sides.”

Griffith and legal adviser for TTPS Christian Chandler confirmed there had been no criminal cases involving the body camera to date. However, Chandler said the footage should be admissible under the Evidence Act. The commissioner also confirmed that footage recorded via the body cameras could also be obtained by the public via a Freedom of Information request, similar to what was done in the United States.

Pros and cons of body cameras (As listed on PROCON.ORG)

PROs

1) Police body cameras increase the safety of the public and the police.

People act differently when they know they are being filmed–police body cameras can encourage good behaviour by police officers and members of the public, leading to a decrease in violence, use of force incidents, and attacks on officers on duty. A study in Rialto, CA, the first US city to trial police body cameras, found an over 50 per cent reduction in the total number of use of force incidents by police officers when body cameras were worn; complaints against officers fell from 28 in the year prior to the study to three during the year of the trial. In Las Vegas, NV, a trial found a 37 per cent reduction in the number of police officers involved in at least one use of force incident when equipped with body-worn cameras. In San Diego, CA, use of body cameras coincided with a 16.4 per cent decrease in high-level use of force (Tasers, pepper spray, firearms) and a 25.3 per cent increase in low-level use of force (controlled holds and Taser warnings). A pilot program in Edmonton, Canada, found that 35 per cent of officers with body-worn cameras observed a decrease in instances of physical aggression by members of the public; and a study on the Isle of Wight, UK, found a 36 per cent decrease in assaults on police when officers were wearing cameras

2) Police body cameras improve police accountability and protect officers from false accusations of misconduct.

Police body cameras provide visual and audio evidence that can independently verify what happened in any given situation. In Texas, a police officer was fired and charged with murder after body-worn camera footage emerged which contradicted his initial statement in the shooting of an unarmed youth. In Baltimore, MD, a police officer was suspended and two colleagues placed on leave after being caught on their body-worn cameras planting fake evidence at a crime scene. In San Diego, CA, the use of body cameras provided the necessary evidence to exonerate police officers falsely accused of misconduct–the number of severe misconduct allegations deemed false increased 2.4 per cent, and the number of officers exonerated for less severe allegations related to conduct, courtesy, procedure, and service increased 6.5 per cent. In Phoenix, AZ, allegations of police misconduct found to be true decreased 53.1 per cent after the deployment of body cameras.

3) Police body cameras are a good tool for learning and have strong support from members of the public.

Video recorded from police body cameras can be used to train new and existing officers in how to perform during difficult encounters with the public. The Miami Police Department has been using body cameras for training since 2012. Police Major Ian Moffitt says, “we can record a situation, a scenario in training, and then go back and look at it and show the student, the recruit, the officer what they did good, what they did bad, and [what they can] improve on.” A YouGov poll found that 92 per cent of Americans support police body cameras with 55 per cent willing to pay more in taxes to equip local police. A Public Attitude Survey in London, UK, found that members of the public are generally in favour of the use of body-worn cameras with 92 per cent agreeing that the cameras would “make officers more accountable,” 90 per cent agreeing that cameras “would ensure officers act within the law,” and 87 per cent agreeing that cameras would “reassure them the police will do the right thing.”

CONS

1) Police body cameras decrease the safety of police officers and negatively affect their physical and mental health.

Some people respond negatively–even violently–to being filmed by police, especially people who may be drunk, on drugs, or suffering from mental health problems. A study published in the European Journal of Criminology found that assaults on police officers were 14 per cent higher when body cameras were in use. University of Oklahoma Professor of Law Stephen E Henderson, JD, says that the use of police body cameras can be psychologically damaging to police officers as “nobody does well under constant surveillance.” Pat Lynch, head of the NYPD’s Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), says that “there is simply no need to equip patrol officers with body cams…Our members are already weighed down with equipment like escape hoods [gas masks], mace, flashlights, memo books, ASPs [batons], radio, handcuffs and the like. Additional equipment becomes an encumbrance and a safety issue for those carrying it.” A report by the UK Home Office noted potential health and safety issues with the use of body-worn cameras including head or neck injuries, electric shock from damaged equipment, and radio failure if cameras and radios were used in close proximity to each other.

2) Police body cameras invade the privacy of citizens, expose victims and witnesses of crimes, and damage police-public relationships.

Recording police-public encounters can lead to the public exposure of private medical conditions, victims of crimes such as rape or domestic abuse, witnesses who fear reprisal from criminals, and informants– especially in states which have laws allowing public access to the footage. Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub notes that “every day we are exposing persons challenged by mental illness, autism, developmental disabilities, addiction, etc. We are creating and making public recordings of their illness and potentially creating life-long consequences.” Chief of Police Ken Miller of Greensboro, North Carolina says that if citizens “think that they are going to be recorded every time they talk to an officer, regardless of the context, it is going to damage openness and create barriers to important relationships.” A study in Edmonton, Canada, found that potential witnesses were reluctant to talk in the presence of a body-worn camera, even when the device was switched off.

3) Police body cameras are too expensive and are unreliable.

Equipping police departments with body cameras is extremely expensive as forces have to budget not only for the camera but also for ancillary equipment, training, data storage facilities, extra staff to manage the video data, and maintenance costs. To equip the Bakersfield Police Department, a force of 200 officers, would cost an estimated $440,000 in the first year, and $240,000 in subsequent years. In Philadelphia, a four-year deal to equip a department of over 4,000 officers cost $12.5 million. Police departments in Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, and Utah have suspended body-worn camera programs citing rising costs. A trial in Edmonton, CA, found that body-worn cameras had an insufficient battery length for every day policing, especially in cold weather where battery life diminished more quickly. A sheriff’s office in Virginia has stopped using body cameras due to the unreliability of their on-off buttons and poor integration with their IT systems.