Police Misconduct Defense: Are Body Cameras the Key?

By OSS Law Enforcement Advisors Staff | Mon, 22 April 2019 – Do you worry about police misconduct defense and the potential for misconduct allegations against your agency? If so, you aren’t alone.

Police misconduct is oftentimes not misconduct at all, but someone attempting to create a defense of their own misconduct, or the misconduct of a friend or relative.

Technology Has Changed the Playing Field

The introduction of cell phones capable of video-recording an officers’ actions have exploded in our society, and the videos can go viral on the internet before the ink is even dry on the officer’s report.

Law enforcement administrators must not condone officer misconduct, but should have adequate time to conduct a proper investigation that is both fair to the officers involved and also the complainant.

In response to the cell phone videos and for purposes of police misconduct defense, many law enforcement administrators have turned to their own technologies, body cameras, to get an independent view of police officers’ actions.

Proponents of Body Cameras for Police Misconduct Defense

Proponents believe that “By recording police-citizen encounters, police supervisors, judges, reporters, and others can get objective evidence of what happened instead of self-serving hearsay.” (CATO Institute,2017) There is something to be said about this line of thinking; however, there must be more to incorporating body cameras within an agency for police misconduct defense. It can’t just be simply about buying them, learning the technicalities, and telling the officers to utilize them in the field.

A host of other issues must be scrutinized before an officer in the field turns on their new body camera. Storage issues, agency policy issues, state laws, and even labor issues are important considerations.

Summed up by one Chief, “Because technology is advancing faster than policy, it’s important that we keep having discussions about what these new tools mean for us. We have to ask ourselves the hard questions. What do these technologies mean for constitutional policing? We have to keep debating the advantages and disadvantages. If we embrace this new technology, we have to make sure that we are using it to help us do our jobs better.”(Charles Ramsey, Police Commissioner, Philadelphia Police Department COPS Office 2014)

Chief Ramsey, a proponent, makes a great summation regarding the use of body cameras in law enforcement. But what about the voices of opposition? Can they make a plausible argument against the use of body worn cameras (BWC)?

The Opposite View

In Boston, officials have genuine concerns that BWC will restrict police community relationships.

“We have a lot of positive we hear, but also are worried about its impact on our relationship with the community. I fear that a lot of people, and the dialogue we have going, a lot of people might not want to have that interaction with us if they knew they’re on camera or they’re being recorded.” (Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans, PoliceOne 2014)

There are indeed many issues that concern BWC deployments in the field. Don’t end up in the darned if you do, darned if you don’t quagmire. Get the right information to draft your policy and train your officers.

To get started contact OSS Academy® or OSS Law Enforcement Advisors®. We can assist you and your department in navigating the social, political, and legal minefields of the implementations of BWCs.

Need Expert Testimony for Police Misconduct Defense?

Contact OSS today at 281-288-9190 (Ext. 205) or complete our contact form for information on our expert witness and expert testimony services.

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