Public Access of Body Worn Camera Footage

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Body Worn Cameras (BWCs) have been a burgeoning tool used by police and security companies the world over. It has been reported that as many as 6,000 police forces in America alone use some kind of BWC. With this mass of footage being recorded, new laws have been put in place in order to either allow for complete public access to footage taken, or keep it solely for police use.

Nearly every major police department in United States is planning to implement a BWC program, according to a recent American survey by the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA).

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has said that the primary reasons given by chiefs whose departments do not plan on implementing a BWC program are privacy concerns, and fear that BWC footage could be posted publicly online.

Transparency and accountability are two of the main benefits of using BWCs for law enforcement. In a study done by the Rialto Police Department, complaints against officers fell 87% compared to the previous year, whilst use of force incidents dropped by 59%. This conveys that the use of BWCs is beneficial for both members of the public and police officers

The most important stipulation regarding the footage garnered by BWCs is how it is audited and used once captured. For Edesix VideoBadges, the footage recorded is protected by encryption keys and only the specific partnered VideoManager software with associated log-ins can allow that footage to be viewed. This design allows the footage taken to be deemed as ‘court-ready’ evidence should it be needed. This encryption mitigates one of the major fears of BWC footage, that a stolen or lost camera could have its footage taken and subsequently shared publicly, edited or deleted.

As the popularity of BWCs burgeon, more states are implementing specific laws to govern the access of any footage taken. These laws are put in place to ensure that the footage keeps its evidential quality, so that it can be used in court, should it be deemed necessary, amongst other concerns. Nancy La Vigne, director of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute, has stated that;

“…in most states, even when footage is public record, there's a loophole that enables law enforcement to decide whether they want to share in the first place.”

A reason this kind of loophole is put in place is due to the sheer volume of footage recorded. Lieutenant Vern Sallee, of Chula Vista, California, estimates that even a single daily hour of footage per officer in mid-size Chula Vista would produce thirty-three terabytes of footage per year.

The question of public access of footage is one that will need to be broached in the future as more police departments begin considering and using BWCs.