'We stopped getting angry letters': Why bodycams need to reflect real life and not just a point of view
An officer shares how a 360-degree body cam effectively addresses concerns that some bodycam footage only tells part of the story
Sponsored by Blue Line Innovations
By PoliceOne BrandFocus Staff
The widespread adaptation of body-worn cameras is meant to demonstrate law enforcement’s commitment to building trust, transparency and accountability. As agencies gear up to keep current with the evolving capabilities of tools like bodycams, the question of whether some bodycams are actually built to provide a neutral perspective of what’s happening is one that officers keep coming back to.
For instance, an article in The New York Times showed how chest-worn bodycam footage can be misleading, especially when they capture only a limited view of what really happened.
Not only do these devices need to capture video, but they also need to protect the integrity of that video so it can be trusted as a record of events. Of course, public safety technology is not meant to act as a silver bullet for complex policing challenges, but you also don’t want to choose a bodycam program fraught with limitations that may bring your department’s well-intended efforts under scrutiny.
When your camera lens doesn’t show the full picture
This is exactly what Lt. Butch Lefebvre of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office in Tennessee wanted to avoid. Years before his department adopted body cams, he says, they used in-car camera systems and mobile cameras, which came with their own limitations.
“Getting footage that we could also use was often a challenge,” said Lefebvre, who has served with the CCSO for over 22 years. “With in-car cameras, you get video from the perspective of the steering wheel of the vehicle, and there’s only so much distance it can capture from the car. Most of it was just static after that limit.”
It wasn’t just a limited depth of field that was an issue – there was also the bigger issue of addressing concerns about transparency.
“The video we got from the steering wheel wasn’t a great representation of our department,” he said. “I’ve seen plenty of letters from attorneys who were concerned about our footage.”
To actively address these concerns, CCSO presented their case to the county commission, which approved a budget to revamp its existing camera system.
That’s how the Warrior 360 bodycam from Blue Line Innovations ended up on the sheriff's office’s radar. As the first 360-degree bodycam on the law enforcement market, it provides a full view of what’s surrounding the officer at all times.
After weighing and considering the possible pros and cons of leveraging different bodycams, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office chose the Warrior 360.
‘We’ve had countless companies give us demos, but in the end decided to go with Blue Line Innovation’s 360-degree bodycams that are mounted on your shoulder,” said Lefebvre. “When an officer goes to his or her weapon or TASER, chest-worn bodycams can get blocked and render a lot of the video footage to be missing out on capturing what really happened – it’s not so one-sided anymore.”
With the Warrior 360, officers can capture everything that’s going on from the front, back and center to overcome the issue of limited perspective often provided by chest-worn bodycams.
Overcoming storage woes
So now you have a fuller picture – but what happens to the footage your camera captures? Another factor CCSO cited in its decision to partner with Blue Line Innovations is how easy it is to save and access videos using Fortify, the company’s digital evidence management platform. Billed as a solution made by law enforcement for law enforcement officials, Fortify allows the agency to customize its video archiving and sharing parameters.
“We were surprised by how much data storage we’d need with all the footage we’re capturing,” said Lefebvre.
The challenge, according to the lieutenant was that the agency was capturing over a gigabyte of data in one event. Downloading such a big file, especially those that were more than 1.5 gigabytes would take up to 15 minutes or more to download even with a fast Internet connection.
"Blue Line Innovations listened to our concerns and reconfigured its software to automatically stop and start recording without losing or compromising the integrity of the footage," said Lefebvre. "Now the camera captures segments of video between 750 to 800 megabytes and downloading those videos that are needed as evidence literally takes seconds instead of minutes."
Now the lieutenant and his team have no issues downloading the footage they need. What they thought would take a while to process and download can be available in a matter of minutes or even seconds.
“They’re taking our suggestions seriously, making those changes and following up,” said Lefebvre. “It’s refreshing because most vendors make a sale and just move on.”
The added perspective and easy video processing have also reduced complaints about transparency. When building trust and transparency matters is a priority the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office responded to these goals while also embracing the latest in technological tools for law enforcement.