Civil Litigation, Bankruptcy, and Administrative Law

Police Departments Turning to Body-Mounted Cameras

As a regular presenter on use of force tactics to law enforcement academies, I am often asked why all law enforcement agencies have not implemented body-mounted cameras for all uniformed officers. The simple answer is that while the technology is no longer cost-prohibitive, there are some logistical concerns that come into play, such as: (1) how a police department will store the data the devices record; (2) how long a police department will need to maintain this stored data; and (3) the recurring cost for data storage. Furthermore, police departments will need to revisit their policies and procedures to set forth well-defined parameters regarding the use of body-mounted cameras. For example, will the camera be recording at all times or only when the officer is initiating a traffic or other investigatory stop.

Henrico County, Virginia has just announced that on or about October 1, 2014, its police officers will begin wearing body-mounted cameras. The County anticipates that in a month’s time, it will have 36 cameras in hand.   The body-mounted cameras serve a dual purpose by assisting with the investigation of cases and allegations of police misconduct. Although 36 cameras is a start, it will take some time and money to outfit Henrico’s 400 uniformed officers. The County anticipates that all uniformed officers will be outfitted with body-mounted cameras in 2016. The cameras will cost $800 each.

The logistical concerns of using body-mounted cameras became evident during the police department’s presentation to the Henrico County Board of Supervisors. During the demonstration, a board member accidentally pressed a button that caused the recording unit to stop displaying the camera feed, and the demonstration was temporarily paused while officers corrected the problem. Clearly, during a physical altercation or pursuit, it can easily be anticipated that a camera could malfunction or stop recording. Police departments should then be concerned whether a camera “glitch” or malfunction would create an unintended presumption of misconduct.