How to Buy Body cameras

In the same manner in which communication is 90 percent non-verbal, video documentation is only a recording of one aspect of an incident

For any police agency, selection of body cameras is really the selection of an entire program, requiring infrastructure and policy integration. 

Congress was recently asked to create a budget that funded body cameras. Because of this, expect new developments in grant assistance for these products. I recommend that purchasing officers monitor

Before we get going on purchasing body cameras, we need to look at what they won’t do. Because the media has spent more time swaying the opinion — rather than educating the public — there is a belief that a video of a critical incident holds more weight than the testimony of the officer. Almost overnight, we have become a nation of experts after watching a few clips on YouTube. 

In the same manner in which communication is 90 percent non-verbal, video documentation is only a recording of one aspect of an incident. (PoliceOne Image)
In the same manner in which communication is 90 percent non-verbal, video documentation is only a recording of one aspect of an incident. (PoliceOne Image)

The fact of the matter is that videos are useless without the interpretation of the “reasonable officer.” The camera is not a witness. In the same manner in which communication is 90 percent non-verbal, video documentation is only a recording of one aspect of an incident.

First, Develop Sound Policy
The policy surrounding the equipment is as important as the equipment itself. In the policy, consider the fact that officers will be recording persons subject to privacy laws like HIPPA (recording persons with medical treatment falls under HIPPA), confidential informants (CI), and minors as victims and suspects. 

Your agency should have a training policy and procedure that require officers to use them appropriately but allows for police discretion. The procedure must address equipment issue. For example if Officer X uses Officer Y’s equipment because hers is not available. This is especially important if the equipment places metadata in the recording. 

The question always comes up: If my incident is not recorded because I forgot to turn the camera on, how does this look in court and the media? First, many products have an automated activation, which is often an event like a light bar activation or something similar. Second, pre-recording and pre-connect are significant features and a must have for a body camera.

Invest in a High Definition Camera
Camera products vary, and resolution varies from 720-1080p, a measurement of how many vertical lines of resolution in the product. Most of these products are progressive scan, which means that all of the lines of the image are used to draw the image in sequence. If you purchased your television within the past few years, you probably bought an HD television with this standard. 

Why do you need to know this? Aspect ratio, or its width to its height, is generally 16:9. Does your agency have the ability to transmit (bandwidth), view and especially store the larger files? 

How high should the definition be? The best level of definition will distinguish things in an investigation that may be otherwise missed. For example, if the officer’s camera scans over some vehicle license plates, the higher resolution (1080p) camera at the higher frame rate may be able to distinguish a license plate or the difference between a gun muzzle and a cell phone. 

Multiple Mounting Options
There are really few options of mounting a camera on a person that will capture the activity. These include shoulder, belt, helmet, shirt, clothing, microphone, eyewear, and halo. The best systems have multiple mounting options that don’t limit the agency to only a few types of uniforms. If the agency is looking at uniform mounting of any kind, there are several cameras that have rotatable, wide angle lenses. 

Consider this: Will point of view of the 7” tall or 5’6” officer differ? There is something to be aid for cameras that integrate the radio mic and camera. This will integrate radio transmission and recording better. 

By the way, any mounting system will require a camera to have at least an IIPX 3. Water ingress isn't the only issue: they need to be sweat resistant. 

Storing and Archiving
The most solid charging and transfer systems are docking stations. Most cameras go from internal memory to storage. That is, they do not have removable memories, which is a defensible practice. 

Since memory is non removable, you should know that 32 gb internal memory will give around 20+ hours of 720p video and 10+ hours of 1080p video, depending on the frame rate. Some cameras have enough standby battery to last that long, but few can record more than a few hours.

There are many features available for a camera system, but a few of them are deal breakers. That is, agencies should not consider the system without the following:

•    Night vision/night mode
•    Frame rate 30-60 fps
•    Pre-record critical incident…This is done by video buffering, which means that the camera was running all the time, and a cutoff of 30-60 seconds before the officer turns it on is recorded. (Some cameras on the market are capable of pre-recording up to 30 minutes of pre-record footage.) Obviously, this is because no one knows when the action is going to start, until they are “in it.”
•    Password required for deleting. 

Essential, but not mandatory, features include a playback screen or a playback feature where the officer can immediately view what’s been recorded. Besides helping the officer write reports, this may also help an officer see around a corner. Additional features which are ‘nice to have’ include: 

•    GPS tagging
•    Image stabilization
•    Metadata on recording 
•    Password lock
•    Vehicle integration
•    Public indicator recording light (may be required by policy or local government) 
•    Still camera capabilities
•    Resolution 720-1080p
•    Memory 8-64 gb
•    Police radio interface (wireless linking)

We need to look down the road a bit. When PoliceOne looked at the future of robotics, industry experts anticipated an improvement in automated decision making. That is, command a robot to go to point B and allow the unit to route itself. As technology improves, some products might include multiple views that change which camera, based on motion or the officer’s attention, voice command or technology that has yet to be developed.

At this time, agencies are generally not using live feed body cameras, but the technology is coming. With the above considerations, who would have authorization to view a live feed?

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