Body Worn Camera: The Truth Exposed

Body worn camera

(Article updated 5/24/18)

I hated the idea at first.

Putting a small camera, a body worn camera, on my uniform that would record every encounter, good or bad, that I have with a citizen?

I had a similar reaction when they first put video recording equipment in our interview rooms.

If you have ever been the bad cop detective in an interview, you know what I’m talking about.

Sometimes I would take bad cop to a whole new level. Nothing illegal or criminal, just an elevated anger and annoyance at the suspect for hiding the truth or mocking us during the interview.

It’s the ugly side of police work that suburbanites or left leaning liberals don’t understand.

Sometimes the only tact that gets through to the worst of the worst is the overbearing, demonstrative approach.

To the outsider looking in, this interview style can appear quite brutish. This tactic is not to be confused with the tried and true “you get more flies with honey” method.

The thought of this interview technique being recorded and shown in court or to a jury made us old school detectives nervous. We knew that we weren’t doing anything wrong but how would it be perceived?

It didn’t take long for us to know that we were worried about nothing.

“The 10 Truths All Cops Know”

The same can be said for ours and most other police agencies across the country. As with video taped interviews, and now body worn cameras, officers forget that they are being recorded.

Apparently, so do the citizens.

The whole world in the palm of your hand

Body worn cameras were in response to an ever-increasing mistrust that the public had against the police. It didn’t matter that this mistrust was built on a false narrative fueled by the media.

Because of this growing animosity, the cell phone became the conduit for the anti-police rhetoric sweeping the country.

Cell phones have changed the world like no other piece of technology.

They have essentially provided humans with almost the entire history of the world’s knowledge in the palm of their hand.

They have also given man the ability to record mans inhumanity to man via the small video recorder attached to it. We have all seen the 20 second fight videos show up on our  news feed.

This and other wretched acts depicted on video showed that we are not so far removed from the animals we share this planet with.

Some of these videos, at first viewing, appeared to show cops acting poorly or using excessive force. These videos were usually shown as mere snippets of the entire incident.

After the video had gone viral, someone would produce the entire, unedited video. This raw, unfiltered video would show the event in its entirety which would dramatically alter the perception and context of the encounter.

Both police executives and citizen support groups alike demanded that officers begin to equip themselves with body worn cameras.

Each side had vastly different motives for demanding body worn cameras on officers.

An unbiased witness

Initially, officers wearing the body worn cameras would sound and act robotic when using the new equipment.

“Hello, I am Officer Smith, how may I serve you today”…

Officers would go above and beyond what would be considered professional and delightful contact with regular citizens to include bad guys when first wearing  body worn cameras.

That lasted for about 5 minutes.

The officers would soon become relaxed again doing their job. The body worn camera became just another piece of equipment they would have to wear as part of the job.

What started out as just another big hassle for officers to keep up with soon became a blessing.

Officers are routinely complained on by citizens who think they have been unfairly treated or disrespected. Prior to body worn cameras, it was the officers word against the citizen and vice versa.

“On Bended Knee: “Systemic Racism” and the Big Lie”

People would make the most outlandish claims and swear to being mistreated and in some cases their civil rights violated.

Now, the body worn camera worn by the officer, would be an unbiased third party ready to call foul on the officer or bullshit on the citizen.

Civil rights groups like the ACLU and Black Lives Matter were betting that the monster would finally be revealed for all to see.

Take a wild guess which side lost this bet.

Epic fail

Almost two years after the implementation of body worn cameras, results are coming in that have some shaking their heads.

The police haters thought that the body worn cameras would prove once and for all that cops were malevolent abusers who use their power to keep the weakest among us down.

The study showed this to be false.

The left also believed that assaults on officers would be greatly diminished because of body worn cameras.

Another fail.

Assaults on officers have remained the same.

And the biggest lie and most epic fail in the crusade to tarnish the profession of policing came out this week.

Civil rights advocacy groups have come out and said that Body Worn Cameras violate the constitutional rights of minorities and people of color.

This is NOT satire

As unbelievable as it may sound, they are advocating for officers not to view their body worn camera footage prior to writing their reports. They believe that this practice denigrates the integrity and transparency of what the initial intent of body worn cameras could provide.

I cannot even form the brain power or the words to justify a response.

If police abuse of power were so rampant, so out of control, the evening news and your Facebook feed would be inundated with them.

Shockingly enough, this has not occurred.

What body worn cameras have shown is what we, the cops and detectives who work the streets, already knew.

It showed that 99.99999 percent of police officers conduct themselves everyday with courtesy and professionalism. It has also shown, which I can most certainly attest, the unfounded and baseless claims that many of our fine citizens have levied against law enforcement.

“Ma’am (or sir), before you make your decision to file a formal complaint against my officer, know that the entire encounter was recorded by the officers body worn camera,” I would advise. After a short pause, I would follow with “and I have viewed the entire video”.

Almost without fail, the next thing I would hear was either a phone click or the person declaring they no longer wished to make a complaint.

I guess the old saying is true after all.

A picture really is worth a thousand lies words..

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  1. Increased use of the body worn camera will probably reveal more incidents of wrong doing and/or incompetence than what comes to light. But it would also show that over 99% of interactions are handled correctly. It will also reveal the incredible amount of hostility, bewilderment, sadness, frustration that cops experience. Such recordings might help put things into perspective.

  2. They are out of any other ideas on which to base a claim if: “they are advocating for officers not to view their body worn camera footage prior to writing their reports.” As the audio/video record is contemporaneous, there is a requirement to view it before making a report to ensure accuracy.

  3. When my former department implemented a pilot program using body cams we held a meeting with the Lieutenant charged with implementing it. He repeated the company line about how the bodycams were there to help the officers and would not be used by command staff/administration on fishing expeditions or in any way be used as a disciplinary tool. My unit (motors/traffic) and the bicycle patrol unit were the guinea pigs for this experiment. I predicted that this would become a monster and be used as exactly that.

    Fast forward 4 months. I was on duty as a boat operator on the River Rescue Unit (one of the hats that I wore in addition to traffic) when an unfriendly encounter with a jet ski operator generated a complaint by said jet ski operator/defendant. OMI (internal affairs) investigated, which included eye witnesses. The witness statements corroberated my incident report and my interview, showing the defendant to be a complete liar. Yet the investigator refused to dismiss the complaint and placed a black mark on my record. When I confronted him he stated that since there was no bodycam footage he could not clear me. When I told him that the bodycams were specifically not to be used during river rescue operations (they aren’t waterproof!) he replied that it didn’t matter. If there was no video footage then I could not be cleared, end of discussion. I wrote a scathing report which I CC’d to a lot of supervisors and insisted be placed in my personnel jacket. I was close to retirement anyways, so what the hell.

    There is now a mindset that if it isn’t on digital data, it cannot be proven or disproved. An officer’s word means nothing now. It’s a brave new world.

    • Couldn’t agree more Mike. Now, if any of my bosses even remotely tries to blame me for anything I quickly tell them to show me the video because if its not on video it didn’t happen.

  4. No cameras in my day (‘67 – ‘97) but as I got near retirement cops began carrying audio recorders in their shirt pocket to protect themselves from BS citizen complaints. Dash cameras came on and now body worn cameras. It only takes a single police event to make the news and everyone becomes a criminal law expert who knows how to do the cop’s job better than they do. Law enforcement is not set up to correct society’s problems, only to deal w/them so others don’t have to.

  5. I find it so funny that the biggest ones who demanded the cameras for officers, at least here in St. Louis, are now the ones demanding that they not use the footage to assist with report writing. We’ve had more than our share of excessive force and downright murder complaints that have actually led to trials in the last 3 years. In the one case, car cam footage led to exoneration in a case that never should have been taken to trial. The FBI, DOJ and Attorney General had cleared the officer at the time of the incident but our new Prosecuting Attorney has a hard on for cops so bad, they plead the 5th in Officer involved shooting cases. It’s a sad day in Policing here.

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