Baltimore drafts guidelines for police body cams

Following the spate of tragedies involving the shootings of unarmed suspects by local police officers, cities are looking to body cameras  as a potential tool for both capturing evidence and deterring violence at a crime scene.

Baltimore recently formed a working group to make recommendations on how police departments can best manage the implementation and avoid the pitfalls of the new forensic tools.

Here is a summary of the group’s initial findings:

Video storage. The group determined that each officer would use about 1.19 terabytes of data, enough total capacity to warrant cloud storage. The group recommended using a cloud-based storage solution from an outside vendor, thereby  shifting responsibility for maintenance and upkeep of the video to an outside contractor.

Videos captured by police officers should be stored for a maximum of four years before being destroyed, according to the report, which would comfortably exceed a three-year statute of limitations on the uses of the video.

To maintain the integrity of the program, any data storage system used should have the capability to lock access to specific camera data.

Tagging, marking and redaction.  “Performance standards for cameras and data storage systems should seek to maximize the automation of useful tagging, but should have the capacity for officer tagging, both in the field and at the station,” the report stated. Tags should include the name of the officer, the date, the time, the GPS coordinates for the images collected, police report numbers, the type of incident the camera captured, and privacy concerns associated with videos. 

Redaction, the blurring and distorting of faces or voices on the video in order to protect the privacy of individuals, must be taken into account when implementing a body camera program, the working group said. Redaction can be quite time consuming, with the working group estimating that 13 minutes of captured video could take one hour to view and redact. However, proper tagging might reduce the overall process by making more relevant metadata available to police and investigators, the report suggested.

Public access to video. The Baltimore report noted that currently members of the public are entitled to view closed circuit TV footage of the video, which the city is required to release under the Public Information Act. That doesn’t always mean a particular piece of video will always be available to the public, the group said. The PIA features a number of exemptions and discretionary measures by authorities regarding the release of data.

Training. Training should include scenario-based training replicating situations that officers might encounter in the field.  Officers and supervisors should be trained on how to implement the body-worn camera program, including how to operate the camera, when it must be turned on, how to tag footage, how to download data and when footage may and may not be reviewed.

Camera recording protocols. Uniformed police officers should have cameras recording during every interaction with the public and during every exercise of police powers, the working group said, except in a consensual interaction where a citizen requests that the camera be turned off.

The Baltimore group recommended that an ongoing evaluation and review of body-worn cameras be conducted. The group added that it would continue to collect statistical data on camera-documented uses of force by officers, internal officer disciplinary convictions and civilian complaints.

The working group also said the availability of concrete data on the pros and cons of body-worn cameras is limited. Currently, no study documents citizens’ views of body-worn camera, for example.

This article was changed Aug. 4, 2015 to correct the amount of data each officer is expected to use.

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.


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