Monday, April 20, 2015

Police Cameras Bring Problems of Their Own

This just in from the Wall Street Journal: "As more police agencies equip officers with body cameras in response to public pressure, authorities are discovering they create problems of their own: how to analyze, process and store the mountains of video each camera generates.

Prosecutors in northern Colorado recently spent hours poring over a dozen videos captured by police wearing cameras. The case? An arrest for drunk and disorderly conduct.

Clifford Riedel, Larimer County’s district attorney, said his office has been overwhelmed with footage from the 60 body cameras the Fort Collins Police Department uses, and will need to hire an additional technician to sort through it all. “There are just huge amounts of data being generated from cameras,” said Mr. Riedel. “It used to be that video on a case was the exception. Now it’s the rule.”

The movement gained new intensity after the police shooting last week of a fleeing man in South Carolina. While many experts inside and outside of law enforcement agree that body cameras—clipped to officers’ uniforms or glasses—help increase police transparency and may even improve police behavior, police departments and prosecutors are struggling with how to sift through, preserve and share the visual evidence.

On top of that, agencies need policies and personnel to respond to requests from journalists and the public to release video under freedom-of-information requests.

“The vast majority of places are still trying to figure this out,” said Michael White, a professor of criminology at Arizona State University who wrote a Justice Department report on body cameras.

Dr. White estimates that between 4,000 and 6,000 U.S. police departments, out of about 18,000 nationally, use body cameras. Officers generally turn them on when stopping a driver or responding to an incident.

Some departments use body cameras in addition to dashboard ones that have become common at many agencies, but result in less-useful footage because much police action takes place away from their vehicles. Body cameras—which cost hundreds of dollars each—typically result in much more video for departments to handle.

The push to require body cameras intensified nationally after last August’s shooting of Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. This week, after a bystander’s cellphone video surfaced showing a white South Carolina policeman fatally shooting an unarmed black man in his back, several prominent state lawmakers voice support for a bill to require all officers to wear cameras.

But the cost has given some officials pause, said Lindsay Miller, senior research associate at the Police Executive Research Forum and co-author of a Justice Department report on the topic. “The cameras themselves aren’t overly expensive, but the years and years of data storage you’re going to deal with—that can definitely be cost-prohibitive,” said Ms. Miller.

Many departments keep inconsequential video for 30 to 60 days. But if the footage is evidence in a criminal case, it must be kept longer; most states require that video in a homicide case be kept indefinitely, she said. Ms. Miller said an emerging consensus is that the benefits outweigh the costs. In limited studies, the cameras have shown promise in reducing use of force by police and citizen complaints—and that can save money spent investigating complaints and settling lawsuits, she said ..."

Keep reading at WSJ.com.

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