Wearable Tech World Feature Article
November 11, 2015

One Human Rights Group's Look at Police Body Cameras

The increased call for police accountability has many departments looking to wearable cameras as a gauge of officer ethics and future liability. A new report from Upturn and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights shows that not all body camera programs are created equal, and some are much better than others.

The report yielded a scorecard breaking down the various departments' use of body cameras. Included on the list were many of the largest police departments around—New York, Chicago and Los Angeles all made the list—as were programs with a particular promise like those found in Parker, Colorado. Cleveland, Ohio and Ferguson, Missouri also landed on the list as being departments that “...have made news for police violence.”

Several factors went into judging overall quality of the program, including several transparency measures like a publicly-available policy, protection of footage against tampering, limits on discretion as to when an officer can stop recording, and whether footage is available to those filing complaints or to the officers involved in the incidents.

Four departments—Albuquerque, Detroit, Philadelphia and San Antonio—either have no policy about cameras in place or have never released it, but have started sending cameras out regardless. Eight of the 12 largest departments, meanwhile, provide no materials for public review of body camera policies. Only Baltimore's police department has expressly forbidden the use of facial recognition tech on body camera footage, regarded as an important step in making cameras more acceptable to communities.

The study gave low marks to Atlanta and Ferguson departments, giving them the lowest rank in each class. The nature of the survey somewhat works against some departments; the survey notes that it awards full credit to departments on points where said departments' effort “fully satisfies our criteria”, while awarding no credit to policy that “...either does not address the issue, or...runs directly against our principles.” Therefore a situation where a department does not have a policy in place forbidding the use of facial recognition is given the same weight as a department that expressly encourages such use.

It's easy to say here that the study itself is flawed as a result, with no policy being equal to a policy contrary to a survey-taker's values. It's important, however, to note that this isn't a binding study. This is designed as an audit of sorts, a means to get departments thinking about what's in place and what isn't, and potentially, ways to improve. If all the “no policy” departments suddenly became “policy we don't like” departments, it would color the study itself.

In the end, the study is food for thought and a way to gauge the growth of police body cameras, a wearable that may stem the current flood of social unrest. 

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere

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