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Critical training for critical incidents: Why a cop’s career may depend on a bodycam

Perhaps the most imperative and revered training tool for police departments in the contemporary era of criminal justice revision is the body-worn camera


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By Dr. Brian P. Kelly, CFE

In recent decades, our nation has observed a multitude of critical police incidents, coupled with an abundance of unfavorable legal outcomes. Many cases have attracted the attention of the mainstream media, organizations and the public, triggering widespread negative public perceptions of police activity. Discussions are had about how a police officer conducted himself or herself on a particular call for service, which can be followed by alterations in policy and efforts to improve training tools and practices to further manage risk.

Perhaps the most imperative and revered training tool for police departments in the contemporary era of criminal justice revision is the body-worn camera. While body-worn camera usage is not used or mandated for use by all police agencies, for those agencies that do subscribe to its utilization, most policies for camera use stress the overarching theme of decreasing liability and increasing officer accountability. With such importance placed on the role of body-worn cameras, how can agencies be effective in training for the use and deployment of this technology?

The discoverable contents captured on departmental camera video may allow for the advantage to be essentially in the corner of the officer, rather than the suspect. (Photo/Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department via AP, File)
The discoverable contents captured on departmental camera video may allow for the advantage to be essentially in the corner of the officer, rather than the suspect. (Photo/Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department via AP, File)

Strategies for Success

Here are three strategies police leaders should follow when launching a body-worn camera program.

1. Walk the talk

When it comes to firearms training, agencies typically use the most qualified marksman within their departments to train and re-qualify personnel annually. This same approach should also be used when training police officers to use body-worn cameras. Some best practices to adhere to include:

  • Phase One: Prior to rolling out the body-worn technology department-wide, carefully select those personnel who significantly fit the mold of “train the trainer.” Police officers selected to train other officers within this vital area of subject matter should possess extensive instructional experience, including the capability to carefully analyze and assess the ability of officers to perform duties in strict accordance with department policies. An exemplary record of on-the-job duty experience is highly recommended, eliminating any liability where disciplinary issues are present.
  • Phase Two: Allow agency “train the trainers” to learn the technology properly, where the actual vendor who distributed the cameras to the departments will work with these officers specifically to ensure technological acumen, as this is as important as learning to shoot and clean a weapon.
  • Phase Three: Assign the trainers to patrol duties, or specialized assignments, where human contact with the community is the priority and the body-worn cameras are deployed to record a variety of incidents. I recommend at least six months of piloted field practice in real-time for the trainers, regardless of the size of the actual police agency.

2. Real is the deal

After trainers have completed a pilot program of using body-worn cameras in the field, scenario-based programming needs to be designed for the roll out of mass instruction to all the officers that will be assigned this technology. Programming and deliverables need to be as realistic as possible and range in level of severity, where applied learning and hands-on training is imperative.

Training should start in the police academy, if possible, and then prior to the start of field training. I also recommend training veteran officers simultaneously with rookie officers, post-academy graduation. This training must be assessed using a strict rubric because cognitive behavior monitoring during camera usage will be at its absolute highest point.

I recommend mandated in-service training in this area twice a year. Trainers may benefit from using a learning tool I designed titled REPAIR™. The components are:

  • Review
  • Evaluate
  • Participate
  • Assess
  • Implement
  • Research.

The simplicity of REPAIR™ directly correlates to the training of police, yet it does not necessarily require or subscribe to a need for fixing something that isn’t broken, because there are a lot of elements within police agencies that are sustainably proficient. The rubric can be based off of this analytical process, and strongly incorporates the unbiased observations of what occurs during the body-worn camera training on a case-by-case basis.

3. Trainer critique and assessment

Many officers are skeptics by nature and design, so let officers who are trainers reveal the pros and cons of body-worn cameras from the beginning. This includes the technology itself. Adjustments will allow for improvements. Simultaneously, the officers undergoing training will vary in experience, which doesn’t make training any easier. Therefore, a carefully created template or form to produce an unbiased assessment and evaluation of the technology is equally important as a rubric to gauge human performance during training with this technology.

4. Training and live-duty assessment

This fourth strategy for success is perhaps the most vital. It is paramount that the officers who are now responsible for wearing and operating the body-worn cameras to also offer honest and unbiased assessments of their completed training. This can be interpreted, from a research perspective, as a pre-test. Furthermore, and also considered a strong and required area of research, would be the post-test. The post-test is another unbiased evaluation of the technology, as well as the training. This should occur approximately six months after the body-worn cameras are officially assigned to the duty officers and incorporate the street experiences of those officers utilizing the technology combined with their initial training. Hence, a post-hoc review of new officer and veteran officer behavior during recorded encounters can provide immediate feedback. This includes both positive review and constructive criticism.

Conclusion

Police departments nationwide are under a targeted wave of scrutiny. The discoverable contents captured on departmental camera video may allow for the advantage to be essentially in the corner of the officer, rather than the suspect. It might be an imperative best practice to treat body-worn camera training, pre and post-tests, as if your officers’ careers depended on it. Wait a second, I think it may.


About the author
Dr. Brian P. Kelly, CFE, is an assistant professor in the School of Engineering Technology, Department of Security Systems and Law Enforcement Technology at Farmingdale State College, SUNY. 

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