How partnering with a police department helped improve body-worn camera technology
The CAD activation feature suggested by a police chief automatically starts bodycam recordings based on data from the CAD system
Sponsored by Utility Inc.
By Laura Neitzel for PoliceOne BrandFocus
Lawrence, Indiana, like many other cities in America today, is a study in contrasts. Its 20 square miles encompass typical big-city problems like poverty, drug abuse, homeless and violent crime, as well as the routine demands to maintain peace and order.
Lawrence Police Chief Dave Hofmann makes sure his officers rotate around the city and have the opportunity to serve the full range of Lawrence’s citizens with an equal degree of fairness and transparency. He is a big believer in using BodyWorn technology by Utility Inc. to help his department to do just that. In 2016, his department was the first in the state of Indiana to adopt BodyWorn bodycams and in-car camera systems.
“We implemented the BodyWorn camera system not because we were responding to any controversy, but because we could see that the national trend was that this technology is becoming more and more acceptable,” said Hofmann. “We felt like it would be a great officer safety tool and a great way for officers to feel like they were being backed up.”
Hofmann’s prediction that the LPD’s investment in BodyWorn technology would prove worthwhile has come true.
“Time and time again we have had complaints filed by citizens on our officers, and when we go to the video, we find out that the complaint does not explain what really happened,” said Hofmann. “In fact, defense attorneys and prosecutors know that when video is played in front of a jury, those 12 people get to see a suspect's behavior and his activity and what he says, and then the officer's response.”
Hofmann says he has found that often in those cases, defense attorneys encourage their clients to take plea agreements.
Since adopting the cameras, Hofmann’s department has developed a collaborative relationship with Utility, which often works with agency partners to help vet its product designs and features while in development. Hofmann appreciates that his officers have the chance to weigh in on their efficacy as tools that can provide the transparency and accountability that citizens expect.
As Hofmann thought about how Utility could improve on the BodyWorn technology, he thought about the key challenge within his own department: officer safety, especially in an increasingly challenging environment where officers often face extremely dangerous situations.
“What we wanted to do was alleviate the responsibility of the officers to have to think about activating their camera,” said Hofmann. “So, we don't want an officer responding to a critical incident – a robbery for example, or being involved in a pursuit, or any of those high-stress situations – we do not want them thinking about a darn camera.”
Because of the collaborate relationship, Hofmann felt comfortable in approaching the Utility team with an idea.
Hofmann’s idea was that, when an officer is dispatched on a run – say, a domestic disturbance – the officer’s bodycam and in-vehicle camera automatically activate based on the nature of the call as identified in the dispatcher’s narrative.
In early 2019, Utility made good on its promise to integrate its new CAD activation technology into the new CAD system LPD shares with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
The CAD activation system works with all BodyWorn bodycams and in-car camera systems and is controlled through one virtual command center, the web-based AVaiLWeb platform.
The technology is designed to provide differing levels of camera activation based on department policy and other user-defined rules. When video is captured, it is automatically tagged with date, time, location, incident number and other information and then uploaded to CJIS-compliant cloud storage.
“When the BodyWorn camera receives that message, it will automatically start recording and automatically tag the video with the call ID. The officer doesn’t have to do anything,” said Eric Bedell, vice president of technology for Utility Inc. “And they can easily serve it up two years down the road when they need it as evidence.”
Camera activation can be targeted to an individual, so when an officer is dispatched to a call, the BodyWorn camera starts recording automatically for that officer.
The system can be set up to establish Action Zones for high priority CAD calls so that the BodyWorn camera will automatically activate for anyone entering or located in that system-created Action Zone, eliminating the need to know exactly which officer is dispatched.
The AVaiLWeb platform allows departments to customize rules for when the BodyWorn camera automatically starts recording, be it by user, date, time, location or call type.
Automatically associate video recordings with a CAD call
The system can automatically associate a video with a CAD call, based on commonalities like the same user or proximities like the time of recording. An officer can also manually associate a recording with a CAD call after the fact.
Video tags streamline investigations and evidence retention
Being able to automatically tag a BodyWorn camera recording to a specific call type, like robbery, helps users search for all videos relating to robbery, streamlining investigations.
The AVaiLWeb platform is largely driven by the classification of the video; therefore, they can be associated to retention timeframes appropriate to that call type. All recordings classified as “robbery” could have a five-year retention classification, for instance, while other unclassified videos could be disposed of after 30 days.
“One of the big challenges with all of the video evidence that we collect is finding the right video,” said Bedell. “So, if you're trying to refer back to something that happened two months ago and you can't remember who recorded it, what device they recorded it on, or what time of day it was, but you do know the case number, it’s easy to find all videos that are associated with that case. It means that you can find that needle in the haystack a lot easier.”
Customization for local needs
Lawrence PD set several additional rules to automatically trigger BodyWorn camera recordings for situations when an officer is likely in a situation where bodycam evidence will be expected:
- When an officer activates the light bar, or lights and sirens.
- When the officer presses a button on a Bluetooth wristband.
- When their cruiser exceeds 80 miles an hour.
- When an officer begins to run.
- When an officer unholsters their firearm.
If the officer goes prone for more than 15 seconds, then the camera goes into “officer down mode” alerting dispatch and other officers, and automatically beginning recording. BodyWorn cameras can even capture up to two minutes of the action beforehand.
“We just wanted to make it so easy for the officers to think about their job and not think about the technology and compliance with our policy,” said Hofmann. “In addition, our BodyWorn camera program really helps our officers to treat everyone fairly and to ensure that the people that they interact with get the same level of respect and attention to service and protection in any part of the city.”