After the Webinar: Research and Policy Issues Surrounding Body Worn Cameras. Q&A with Dr. Michael White

Webinar presenter Dr. Michael White answered a number of your questions after his presentation, "The Latest Research and Policy Issues Surrounding the Use of Body Worn Cameras in Law Enforcement." Here are a few of his responses.


Audience Question: So, touching on your other roles, what support do you provide, what support is available when an agency decides to implement a camera program, thinking about that technical adviser role that you wear. Is there additional support for agencies who have already implemented, and what exactly does that support include?

Dr. Michael White: Like I said there have been about 268 law enforcement agencies that have gotten a federal grant. And they vary tremendously. Big cities, departments, LAPD, Detroit, Chicago, and also some very small agencies. A number of agencies had gotten money that had fewer than 25 officers. So, it's been a very diverse group of agencies, which means it has a very diverse set of experiences.

A number of agencies were funded to enhance current programs, so they already had some cameras to deployed and they are using federal funding to expand that. Those kinds of agencies which are usually pretty far along in terms of their understanding, but it's much more common that the grantees are basically starting from scratch. In some cases what they, have what I would say, is just a basic understanding of the issues. Our job, regardless of where an agency is starting, is to make sure to answer their questions and provide whatever they need. And in some cases that it isn't very much, some of the big city agencies that already have programs, but in other cases, we're starting from scratch, we're helping agencies go through the procurement process.

How do you pick a vendor? What kind of specs do you want on your camera? A big thing you do, like I said, right off the bat, is the policy review. That's important for the agencies because they can't get their money until they pass it, which means they can't buy their cameras until they pass it. But we do a lot of stuff online.

We do webinars like this, basically every month, we have weekly updates and things like that. One of the interesting things we have is called a Speaker's Bureau. So, whether you're a federally funded agency or not, you can go on and you can make a request to have an expert come and talk to your jurisdiction about body cameras. And it can be very specific, you want to find about research, or it can be kind of broad, you just want somebody come in and to talk to your city council, community groups, and we send people to jurisdictions, free of charge, to provide that kind of information.

We also do a lot of very hands-on stuff with the agency to get funded. For example, last month we sent a team of six of our subject matter experts to go to Colorado for a day-long training on body cameras and it was focused. A couple of different things, but a big piece of it, was prosecutor engagement. That's a long way to say we'll do whatever we need to do. So, we kind of got our most typical TTA services, but we haven't been asked to do something we couldn't do yet. So, we're game for whatever help people need.


Audience Question: Did DOJ Police Worn Camera Grants require the agencies to have a policy in place before, in order to apply for the grants?

Dr. Michael White: They do not. In fact, those agencies that don't have the policy in place, oftentimes, things go on a little more smoothly. Because if the agency already has a policy in place and it's not comprehensive, it has some gaps in it, then when they go to the policy process, they're going to have to change some things, and that's a scenario where there has been a little of a push back. Particularly, if there is a difficult mechanism to make policy changes in an agency, sometimes it's better to start from scratch.


Audience Question: Is federal funding still available to implement body-worn camera programs?

Dr. Michael White: Yes. Like I said, this is one of the things that really haven't changed with the new administration. The RFP, the request for proposals for this current year has closed already, so the BJ is currently reviewing applications and making awards on October. And then what will happen, probably February, maybe March of 2019, the next RFP will come out and it will be at least that year, and whether there will be additional years beyond that is not clear yet, but there will be at least one more year of funding.


Audience Question: Is there any data or research talking about the use of body-worn cameras used in emergency rooms, during interactions with assault victims, and how has the technology helped?

Dr. Michael White: I have not seen any research studies that have specifically focused on either the use in sexual assault cases other than the two I've mentioned, which I think were both misdemeanor or domestic violence, which is very different. Or use in ERs, I know policies are very specific which is the other side of the presentation. So, research, not so much, but policies, I know, are very, very clear typically on the use of cameras in these types of situations. Interviews of victims, where that plays out really is the discretion to deactivate if the victim does not want to be recorded when giving his or her statement. What does the policy say about that, but also what the policy says about recording in what is typically considered restricted or protected environments in terms of policy such as a hospital. Policies do address those issues.


Audience Question: Another person wrote in, I realize there are grants for starting or maintaining body-worn cameras for police departments. But how about for prosecutor's offices? We have to review and prepare evidence for court, require manpower and equipment cost involved in handling the program. Are there grants available for that? Or can they apply for the same types of grant money that you were talking about a few minutes ago?

Dr. Michael White: The grant funding program that I have been talking about typically has been limited to police departments. That said, there's been an expansion there, there have been a significant number of university police departments that had gotten grants, a couple of high school police forces that gotten grants, this past cycle a grant was awarded to the New York State Department of Corrections. There have been expansions, I have not seen any prosecutor's offices getting federal funding through this program. There may be funding available through other BJS programs, but not through this particular program. The fact of the matter is that the prosecutor's office bears the brunt of this technology, because it's their staff then that receives all of the video, and audio, and has to review all of that when making charging decisions, when having to deal with discovery with defense, they have been left out of the equation in many cases, and that's a problem.


Audience Question: Are dashcams still relevant, even as a complement to body-worn cameras?

Dr. Michael White: I think the short answer there is yes. I know that several of the benders, who I will not name, but several of them are now working on integration. That is, you can integrate your body-worn cameras and your dashboard cams with the same kind of system and you can manage the data, the storage, the footage and the same system. So, there is a focus there, I think some departments look at it as, "I got to do one or the other, because both are expensive so which one am I going to do?" And generally, what I see in agencies if they're making that 'I got to pick one' decision, they tend to go with the body cam just because they have more flexibility. The dashboard cams stay with the car. At least in local law enforcement, the officers often are away from the car. Which means the body-worn cameras are more valuable in terms of capturing stuff. But it will depend on your agency, if you're on highway patrol, then dashboard cams could often be sufficient.


Audience Question: What does the future look like the use of body-worn cameras, what's the next evolution of their use, in the technology, all of that kind of good stuff?

Dr. Michael White: One of the problems right now is we don't have a good estimate of how many law enforcement agencies have deployed cameras. The number of people always mention, we have about 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the US. How many of those 18,000 have deployed cameras? Right now, the answer is we don't know. BJS did a survey in 2016, two years later we haven't seen those results, they're going to release the results later in the fall. That will give us a snapshot as of 2016. I believe we're going to see that it's more than half, there are about 10,000 agencies. To me, the train has left the station. Body-worn cameras are going to become a routine part of policing throughout the United States. The human and technology elements are going to be the parts that are the next set of challenges. On the human side, the activation compliance, what are departments doing to make sure their officers are turning them on when they're supposed to. Because if they're not activating, that's going to create issues particularly if you have an officer-involved shooting that should have been recorded and wasn't. And then on the technology side, where's technology going to take body-worn cameras? The big one being discussed is facial recognition, can we integrate facial recognition with body-worn cameras, how would that play? And should we do that? Those are the next set of questions, I think, coming down the pipe.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of "The Latest Research and Policy Issues Surrounding the Use of Body Worn Cameras in Law Enforcement."

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