Though their use remains controversial and may actually produce negative effects on law enforcement officers, body worn cameras (BWC) are still considered and used by many law enforcement agencies in the United States (Adams, 2018). There are multiple BWC models available to agencies, who eventually select the units and systems that best fit their operational needs, equipment and video storage budgets, and evidence requirements.
When a BWC is activated, usually by pressing a button on the BWC twice, it records the previous thirty seconds of video, but not audio. The recording then continues with both audio and video and a time stamp, and possibly a GPS position. Once activated, the law enforcement officer is unable to delete or modify a recording with most units. Commonly, BWC systems require recorded video to be uploaded into dedicated secure storage, which does not provide for unauthorized deletion or modification and logs any associated actions, dates, and times (upload, classification, review, etc.).
Guidelines vary by agency, but generally, law enforcement officers are directed to activate their BWCs if they enter a situation that could require a written report. The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and United States Department of Justice recommend, “Officers who wear body-worn cameras should be required to articulate on camera or in writing their reasoning if they fail to record an activity that is required by department policy to be recorded.”
Scott Greenwood, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), opines, “You want activating the camera to be a reflexive decision, not something that officers have to evaluate with each new situation. If officers have to determine what type of incident it is before recording, there are going to be a lot of situations in which a recording might have exonerated an officer, but the recording was never made (Implementing a Body-Worn Camera Program; Recommendations and Lessons Learned, 2014).” To be sure, there are occasions when BWCs are unintentionally not activated, at times during critical incidents when a recording could have been helpful in evaluating a use of force. However, the training required for the “reflexive” decision Greenwood seeks is generally not a part of BWC training, or a specific recommendation by PERF outside of scenario-based training.
For a physical action to become a dependable and “reflexive” or automatic motor program (procedural memory/“muscle memory”), requires significant, if not thousands, of quality repetitions in continuous use, and/or directed practice.
Even with significant repetitions and consistent BWC activation under most conditions, a law enforcement officer may not activate their BWC under distracting or stressful situations, potentially leading to accusations of a cover-up and an implication the officer’s actions were inappropriate.
When a law enforcement officer is addressing the multiple tasks and decisions typically associated with a response to a complex, stressful, and/or potentially life-threatening situation (radio traffic, driving, tactical decisions, verbalization, supervision and instructions, updated information, etc.), these tasks may act as a perturbation to, and interrupting, the practiced BWC activation sequence (Loukopoulos, Dismukes, Barshi, 2009). Or, if a situation is presented rapidly, the officer’s sympathetic nervous system will over-ride the trained response and direct attention and movement towards what the brain perceives as most important at the time- likely to be a person or situation that may threaten the officer's survival. In essence, the officer is distracted and forgets to activate the BWC and/or prioritizes the BWC as less important to survival than what requires their immediate attention.
Can a law enforcement officer perform outside of the capabilities and limitations of human evolution, design, or adaptation? Why, or why not? Is this sometimes expected? Is this reasonable? Why, or why not?
Why do you think there is no general recommendation for BWC activation motor training from law enforcement executive committees and trainers?
Do you believe the general public would be willing to finance the training required for the dependable activation of BWCs under significant stress? Why, or why not? Based on your answer, what then should the reasonable public expectation be for the activation of a BWC under stress?
Adams, I. (2018). Police Body-Worn Cameras: Effects on Officers’ Burnout and Perceived Organizational Support. Police Quarterly (PQ-17-0133.R1).
Coyle, D. The Science Behind Improvement- Muscle Memory. Retrieved 07/22/2019. https://eyelinegolf.com/…/the-science-behind-improvement-bu….
Gammon, C. (2018). The Science Behind Where Police Should Place Their Body Cameras. Inside Science, The American Institute of Physics. April 27.
Implementing a Body-Worn Camera Program; Recommendations and Lessons Learned. Police Executive Research Forum and U.S. Department of Justice, 2014, ISBN:978-1-934485-26-2.
Loukopoulos, L., Dismukes, R., Barshi, I. (2009). The Multitasking Myth; Handling Complexity in Real World Operations. Ashgate Publishing Company, Burlington, Vermont.