Our department is taking another key leap forward this week, and I think it’s vital for every member to know the details.
The past two years have seen a rapid advance in the use of body-worn cameras by police officers. Law enforcement agencies all over the country, conscious of the need to become more open and transparent, have been embracing this technology as the new standard in public safety.
As we have with so many other trends, our organization seeks not merely to follow, but to lead - as indeed we already have led, in advancing the frontiers of openness and transparency with innovations like the in-car camera.
The challenges of bringing body-worn cameras to an agency of our size are significant, yet I know we are more than capable of meeting them without any compromise to our other priorities. We understand this new technology comes at a cost, but we are committed to managing that cost so it does not interfere with ongoing efforts to raise the compensation of our officers to an appropriate level.
The first step will be a pilot program for supervisors that officially begins with a training session held today. The test program will run for 90 days and involve 3 groups of 24 supervisors. Most body cameras will be assigned to patrol districts, but some will be sent to support units like Special Operations, Mobile Reserve and SWAT.
To get a sense of which devices work best, at least two different camera models will be alternated among the participating sergeants. This will help us determine which type, or which mixture of types, will best serve our purpose.
Those taking part will complete a user evaluation, designed to discover any problems or concerns arising in the implementation process. In the spirit of collaboration with our employees, the feedback from those reports will later be used to revise our policies and inform our strategy ahead of any wider roll-out.
There are, of course, numerous questions still to be answered. Of particular interest at this stage of the process is the body camera workflow process. What are the best ways to handle tasks like docking the cameras, uploading the footage, tagging and categorizing the resultant files, defining access privileges for the system, and integrating it with I-Leads, to name just a few. At the same time, we know there are also important moral and legal issues to be considered, like how to weigh the privacy concerns of citizens beside the goals of public safety, and how to balance the need for Sunshine Law access with the cost of data storage and retrieval. In many ways, this pilot program will be starting out ahead of the social and political curve, as we wait for legislative authorities to catch up to the questions raised by this evolving technology.
Answering those questions with hard data and real-world experience is one of the main things this pilot program is meant to accomplish.
But it isn’t the only thing. Another equally important reason why we are proceeding this way is not technological, but personal. We want our officers to understand and feel confident in a body camera system, just as we want them to understand and feel confident in any other piece of equipment they carry on the job. The pilot gives everyone a chance to learn about the new technology. This is why we have made body cameras part of our discussions in the collective bargaining process and this is why we will forthrightly share what we learn in the pilot with department members along the way.
We take this step knowing that it will further our mission in at least three crucial ways: first, by capturing evidence and helping us get criminals convicted; second, by reducing complaints; and third, by building greater trust between the police and the public we are sworn to protect. We take this step with our eyes wide open, and with the knowledge that life safety – including officer safety – is and always will be our highest priority.