Like the session on “de-escalation”, the session, “Body-Worn Cameras – Legal Issues and Implementation,” was delivered to a standing-room-only crowd at IACP.

With a show floor packed with law enforcement gadgets, including body-worn cameras, and an increasing number of agencies looking to deploy the technology, it’s clear that law enforcement has many questions about the devices, including privacy and constitutional concerns, how to manage disclosure of footage, and more.

According to a recent study noted during the session, 80 percent of law enforcement officers will be wired for video in the next three years. Asking for a show of hands from attendees, nearly everyone in the room raised their hand indicating they are either considering or have already deployed body-worn cameras.

Cameras have been called the future of police technology and the saving grace of law enforcement agencies becoming more transparent, but as Eric Daigle, attorney with the Daigle Law Group, reminded, they are simply a tool.

While many departments have received federal funds to purchase cameras, many departments are not prepared for the back-end issues of having them, Daigle noted. Not only are there maintenance costs for having body-worn cameras in the field, there’s the issue of managing the data, keeping it secure, union challenges and more. “Where do you turn now?” he asked.

“Police have to have faith in their legal advisors,” Daigle said. He noted law enforcement needs to control the application of their use and trust the legal system to determine what uses are permissible.

He noted the case of Glik v. Cunniffe, where a citizen recorded an officer conducting an arrest of a third party. Glik was himself arrested for recording the officer. In the end, Glik was freed and all charges were dismissed, however, the City of Boston later had to settle with Glik. To Daigle, this case works in the favor of law enforcement, and it became established law that in the interest of transparency, it’s everyone’s right to record everyone, especially law enforcement.

Daigle noted that the deployment of cameras comes down to a frank conversation between law enforcement leadership and their teams. A cost/benefit application usually turns to officer safety, which, in many cases, leads to acceptance of the technology.

Bill Amato, police legal advisor with the City of Tempe, Ariz., argued that law enforcement agencies need to draft a policy first before adopting body-worn cameras. After all, to his point, there’s not a “one size fits all policy,” as each agency has its own culture, community engagement interests and more. But that policy is often the first thing delivered to counsel, the media and the public at-large when agencies are confronted with incidents.

“The ACLU may be knocking at your door… but you need to put the time and effort in now to create the policy you want to live with,” Amato said.

A sound policy will address use of the camera system – including when to turn the camera on/off, where it’s appropriate to record, where it can be worn – but also how the footage can be used later on. While body-worn cameras are rooted in transparency, they can also present an opportunity for officer training.

Amato reminded attendees that there will always be people who resist change, but that is a much easier challenge to manage overall. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Amato warned against officers using their own camera systems. After all, equipment and footage should be subject to the control of the agency.

“If the law doesn’t prohibit you from recording, you should be recording,” Amato noted. He reminded attendees that similar to redacting documents in public or media disclosure situations, video can largely be controlled when privacy or the sensitivity of the case is a concern. After all, law enforcement policies must comport with Freedom of Information Act requests.

While the panelists agreed there may not be one way to implement the use of body-worn cameras, they agreed it is a reality that law enforcement, and the public at large, will have to get used to.

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