As body-worn cameras (BWC) become more prevalent among police forces and the military, there has been a rise in the number of private security personnel using them. From bouncers at nightclubs to prison officers, more and more private firms are seeing the benefit of body-worn cameras for preventing incidents before they happen, capturing incidents that do occur and even holding security staff accountable for their own actions.
But this change has been a long time coming, and it is not a change that many private security firms are quick to embrace. In this article we look at the rise of BWCs, their adoption by a segment of the private sector and some of the reasons why others are slower to embrace the technology.
A brief history of body-worn cameras
BWCs are nothing new. They first came into the public consciousness with Google’s brief flirtation with Google Glasses; a device which could live stream video from a camera within the glasses. But police in the UK have been using BWCs to record their daily activities as far back as the mid-2000s. The trials were deemed successful enough for cameras to be issued to over 22,000 Met frontline officers in 2016.
The tipping point for BWCs in America came in August 2014 when the unarmed Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri by police officer Darren Wilson. Prior to the shooting only a few dozen smaller departments had implemented body-worn camera programs. By September 2015 the US Department of Justice had released $23 million to 73 agencies in 32 states to expand the use of body-worn cameras. Washington, D.C, New York and Los Angeles were among the first to start their own pilot programs.
Success and controversies
Over the last few years, body-worn cameras have really come to prominence due to a number of high profile cases in the US, including a police officer in Baltimore recording himself allegedly planting evidence. But there have been success stories for police. A study by Cambridge University found that police equipped with body-worn cameras receive 93% fewer complaints from the public. It’s important to note, however, that behaviour changes seemed to rely on the camera recording throughout the event and all parties being aware that it was on. This suggests that the camera had a positive impact on the behaviour of both the member of public and the officer involved.
San Diego had similar success, with misconduct allegations down 43% and cases of high-level use of force reduced by 16% between 2013 and 2016.
Adoption by private security
Police forces across the US and UK have been quick to adopt body-worn cameras, seeing them as a way to build community trust, provide evidence following confrontations with citizens and hold officers accountable. Indeed, a number of states are now requiring them as a matter of law. But despite some successful adoptions, and the potential benefits of using body-worn cameras, private security firms have been slow to embrace them. This can largely be attributed to the following reasons:
The initial cost of equipping security personnel with BWCs is not insignificant and private firms do not have access to some of the grant money that is available to public law enforcement agencies. As the technology develops the cost of the cameras is dropping but initial outlays can still be too much for some firms to justify.
There is also the cost of video storage and management which can be problematic for some firms. Typically, body camera footage is uploaded at the end of the shift to an in-house server or an external cloud server. It’s vitally important that any footage captured is stored in a secure, accessible and reliable Digital Evidence Management platform. But storing all this video data onsite or in the cloud can be expensive. To overcome this, some BWC providers have tiered pricing structures offering different features depending on the number of staff and locations which may provide some flexibility on price.
Using the footage provided by incident recordings for training purposes can be invaluable when it comes to training staff on the best way to deal with real life situations. It can also provide real insight for new staff on the kind of situations they may end up facing. However, firms will also need to create their own policies and train staff to adhere to them. This will include things like when to turn the camera on, when to let people know you’re recording and how to upload the recording to the server. This level of training, however, can be time consuming and is often beyond the level of training provided by some security firms.
Privacy concerns are a major consideration for security firms looking to adopt body-worn cameras. A person recorded by a body camera may attempt to sue the security firm or the business contracting the staff member for invasion of privacy. Many commercial general liability policies provide this coverage, so ask your coverage provider if this will affect the invasion of privacy liability. Whether this is applicable also depends on whether or not the video footage contains sound as different laws can apply to video without audio.
To limit this exposure, it’s a good idea for security firms and businesses with security guards to check with local law enforcement and legal counsel before equipping guards with cameras. Firms will also need to put procedures in place to prevent videos from being copied and shared on social media.
Having BWCs can also help to protect firms from lawsuits. With the evidence provided by body cameras, false and frivolous claims can be more easily dismissed. Cases of misconduct can also be dealt with a lot faster.
Are body-worn cameras right for your firm?
There are certainly a number of benefits to using BWCs. But it’s important to consider the roll of the private security officer in your organisation before making a decision.
In cases where the security officer’s job involves interacting with people who are suspected of committing a crime and taking action, then body cameras can be of benefit to an employer. A security officer working in a store, for example, may greatly benefit from having a BWC as it can provide visual evidence of the crime as well as recording any conflicts that may arise out of the suspect being confronted. The BWC, coupled with signs about their existence, can act as a visual deterrent to stop a crime before it is even committed. If the officer is part of a larger team, BWCs are also available with microphones that can be used to communicate efficiently from the device.
A night watchman, on the other hand, is less likely to need to a BWC as their interactions with others that would require recording are likely to be few and far between.
The future or the present?
Body-worn cameras have become more and more commonplace with law enforcement around the world. And gradually the private sector have caught up. My belief is that as the technology becomes cheaper and governments agree on legislation, some of the old stumbling blocks will erode, leading to greater uptake from private firms. Public perception of the devices is also changing as they become more accepted within society. So any stigma attached to firms using them will start to evaporate.
Whatever a firm decides about using BWCs, the decision to equip security personnel with body cameras should be just one part of a comprehensive strategy to equip staff with technology that helps them do their jobs better.