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The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department purchased body-worn cameras for its stations inconsistently as grants became available for more than a decade, but the 4,100-employee department realized that in order to implement the law enforcement tool across the expansive Southern California jurisdiction, it needed a cohesive policy.
A comprehensive set of rules and guidelines would need to cover who would receive cameras, how they would operate them and how the recorded data would be managed.
“For us, the purpose really is as an investigative tool,” Assistant Sheriff Raymond Gregory said on Wednesday during a Route Fifty webcast, which focused on best practices and policies for implementing and managing police body-worn camera programs.
Panelists also included Rachel Levinson-Waldman, senior counsel with the Liberty and National Security program at the New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice; Antonia Merzon, a consultant with the Colorado District Attorney’s Council who spearheaded a Colorado Best Practices Committee for Prosecutors report on body-worn cameras for law enforcement. Route Fifty Executive Editor Michael Grass moderated the discussion.
The Brennan Center analyzed police department policies in 24 major U.S. cities to examine best practices and policy frameworks. Three big motivations were identified by the public policy institute: Establishing infrastructure for body camera adoption; providing guidance to police officers in advance; and building public trust.
Body-worn cameras “tend to be on more often and more regularly when there’s a policy in place,” said Levinson-Waldman, who admitted “there’s a lot of work to be done” from an IT and personnel perspective.
Most policies, for instance, lack provisions for when to record victims or witnesses of domestic violence or sexual assault. And then there’s the issue of how and when to release videos to the public.
Body-worn camera technology is “potentially a wonderful source of evidence” for prosecutors, Merzon said, from capturing the recovery of drugs and stolen property to injuries sustained in violent crimes.
But the data collected through the program is extremely sensitive.
“This footage might be sought after by nefarious types who might seek to hack into systems,” Merzon cautioned.
A technological undertaking is required of law enforcement agencies to securely store recorded video and create an auditing trail allowing for privileged access by attorneys. As the volume of video data builds up—which requires massive amounts of storage and the IT systems to manage it—additional support staff may need to be hired in the form of additional attorneys, clerks and cybersecurity personnel.
Riverside County, the 10th-most populated county in the U.S., is “certainly concerned” with the workforce considerations, Gregory said, but it’s too early to estimate the data demands and personnel impacts. Both the department and county employ cybersecurity workers, and “promising outside solutions” exist if the department decides it needs greater security, he added.
While drafting its body camera policy, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department met with everyone it viewed as a stakeholder, including citizen groups and the American Civil Liberties Union, “to really balance out the different needs and expectations,” Gregory said.
Policy direction from the state of California would be welcome, the assistant sheriff said, so long as it went through the same process.
“Sometimes that does not always happen in the political arena, which is a big concern,” Gregory said.
Body cameras have not yet been issued across all patrol stations in Riverside County, though the department ultimately envisions them on courtroom and corrections deputies as well.
For a body-worn camera policy to endure, officials must also be cognizant that technology will evolve—facial recognition looming on the horizon.
Levinson-Waldman said that of the 24 cities studied by the Brennan Center, only Baltimore’s body-worn camera policy addressed facial recognition directly, limiting the specific purposes for which it could be used.
“There’s a concern that body cameras are also a form of surveillance,” Levinson-Waldman said, and that extends to other emerging technologies like license plate readers.
Some body-worn cameras already have the ability to livestream—a bigger policy dilemma.
“That raises an entirely different and more complicated set of security questions about how to deal with data on that level,” Merzon said. “So it’s really going to be an ongoing challenge for people handling that kind of data.”
Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty.