January 2, 2024

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Interpreting Body-Worn Camera Footage

Gordon Graham
Category: Law Enforcement

Gordon Graham here with Today’s Tip from Lexipol. And Today’s Tip is for all my friends in law enforcement who use body-worn cameras – bodycams.

The bodycam is a great piece of technology, but it only gives a narrow view of a larger story.

Agencies sometimes release bodycam footage to inform the public about an incident. In the best releases I’ve seen, the video footage is just one part of a comprehensive briefing. In these briefings, an agency’s chief or public information officer sets up the situation. They show the video footage, then talk about the outcome. The main focus is on why officers did what they did, giving context to the footage.

Why don’t they just let the footage speak for itself? Because the video doesn’t provide the whole picture.

The bodycam is a great piece of technology, but it only gives a narrow view of a larger story. Video footage doesn’t always show viewers what led to an encounter. And it doesn’t present everything the officer saw and experienced firsthand.

For example, the camera can’t smell the things the wearer smells, like the odor of alcohol or certain drugs. Subtle movements or concealed weapons can be hard to see in bodycam footage because of the position of the camera or the movements of officers and suspects. And it’s tough for cameras to pick up some types of physical resistance, such as a suspect tensing up to avoid being handcuffed.

Remember the adage: If it’s not documented, it didn’t happen. A thorough, written report is the primary record of what you observe, experience, think, and do during an incident. Written accounts provide detailed context for fact-finders like prosecutors, judges, and administrators. They can also form the basis for a video briefing that gets released to the public. So, write a thorough report and use video footage to supplement what you’ve written. Doing so provides the entire story.

And that’s Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Until next time, Gordon Graham signing off.

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