Failure to Activate Body-Worn Cameras
August 29, 2015
A recent article in the International Business Times entitled “What Happens When Police Turn Off Their Body Cameras” by Eric Markowitz, discusses the implications when an officer, either intentionally or unintentionally, fails to activate their body-worn camera. Any agency that has deployed, or is planning to deploy, body-worn cameras must clearly address both of these circumstances in their operational and/or disciplinary policies. Any policy without policy enforcement is simply words on paper. Policy development and policy enforcement regarding body-worn cameras, if done poorly, can lead to a host of unintended consequences. Undoubtedly, any officer who is proven to have failed to activate, or purposefully deactivate, a body-worn camera with the willful intent to conceal criminal activity should be prosecuted and terminated. This level of deceit is at the core of the public discourse about police corruption and body-worn cameras as a tool for accountability. Other circumstances involving activation and deactivation, however, require closer examination by the agency as they craft policy and policy enforcement standards. What level of discipline is warranted for occasional intentional failure to activate, not in an effort to cover-up criminal actions or misconduct, but because the officer does not agree with the agency’s decision to deploy cameras under certain circumstances? What happens to the new officer, fresh out of training, who gets into her first foot pursuit and forgets to activate her camera? And what should be done to an officer who uses his discretionary judgement to deactivate his camera when, in review, it should have remained on? There are those at each end of the debate over body-worn cameras who would certainly answer these questions with different answers. Some will offer technology solutions. Others would take a zero-tolerance approach. Unfortunately, there is a growing trend to politicize body-worn camera policy. A number of states have drafted “one-size-fits-all” policies to be implemented by every agency in the state. Discipline associated with failing to comply will come next. Time will tell if this works as intended. As the article points out, we are in “uncharted territory” with this new technology. Agencies must be diligent in crafting solid, reasonable, policy and policy enforcement standards. They must also be watchful for external influences that can create an environment for poor policy implementation. The officers on the streets wearing this new technology deserve no less.