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How today’s BWC footage will shape tomorrow’s LEO training

Many police departments currently have the capability to use body-worn camera footage to improve training protocol. If the advancements don’t require futuristic tech, what is available, and how can we deploy the fundamental changes?


Body-worn camera


By Police1 staff

Peyton Manning was not known as the most athletic quarterback in NFL history, but there is no debating he was one of the most prepared. Manning’s meticulous film study habits are well-known to any football fanatic. Manning used to pore over game film and it’s said he has a ‘Rain Man’ like memory when it comes to recalling exact plays that happened years ago.

Manning’s dedication to training and preparation, especially through watching and studying game film, led him to two Super Bowl rings and a slew of NFL records.

When it comes to studying the behavior of himself, and plausible situations around him, Manning was able to predict, respond and ultimately become successful in his career.

What does Peyton Manning have to do with law enforcement?

Body-worn camera (BWC) footage is the game film of law enforcement. Prior to BWCs, dash cams were a great source of footage for training, but the range, field of vision and functionality is more limited than a BWC.

The opportunity LEOs currently have to review and understand field tactics is unprecedented. And the more footage departments have to analyze, the more valuable it becomes.

Improve Evaluation of Training Protocol

Evaluating and improving LEO training is notoriously difficult. There is little data to support when training or a field tactic work. Many published studies are based on outdated or small sample sizes.

“Training, in general, has been really poorly evaluated,” explains David Makin, Ph.D. and Dale Willits, Ph.D. two assistant professors at Washington State University who specialize in policing.

The researching partners explain how body-worn camera footage can help law enforcement trainers and polices leaders to better evaluate training protocol and techniques. The first step is to use BWC footage to better understand the outcomes of all police interactions - good and bad.

“By gathering more information on how officers apply training in the field, we can understand how effective modern training is,” Makin said “How are officers deviating from practice and are the outcomes better or worse than if they stuck to the by-the-book methods?”

When departments can replay portions of BWC footage and compare various training techniques, police trainers can better define best practices based on stronger and more abundant data.

Fine-tune de-escalation tactics

By building a catalog of footage, and spending the time to review it, LEOs can compare use-of-force situations and non-use-of-force situations for improved de-escalation tactics.

Specifically, the professors at WSU recommend departments ask these questions when reviewing BWC footage:

  • How are officers currently applying force?
  • How quickly did they use force? For instance, is it between 8-12 minutes into an interaction? What led up to the conclusion?
  • How did a similar situation resolve without force?

By comparing tactics, analyzing the time spent before force was applied, and the overall situation that led to the force, instructors can implement training specific to each step leading up to the tipping point and revise de-escalation tactics accordingly.

“Understanding the timing of force is not about saying you were too quick or too slow in using force. Rather, it is an opportunity to explore the timing with officers. If you detect an officer using force quickly in their interactions, it begs the question, is the officer attempting to de-escalate,” Makin said.

Analyze stress with biometrics

Taking the previous step a bit further, BWCs may soon come equipped with devices to help gauge an officer’s biometric state while responding to calls.

At this time, researchers have no way of accurately tracking what emotional state an officer is in as they are responding to a situation, and how their stress may influence the next steps.

“Can an officer use the correct technique or the technique they’ve been trained on in different situations,” Willits said, “Or is their stress getting in the way?”

Biometric sensors, meant to detect stress levels in an officer’s voice, could be attached to a BWC. Researchers can use the data to understand how current training methods work under varying degrees of stress.

This deep analysis can help develop sequencing training. That is to say, researchers can start to find patterns in stress and collaborate with academy instructors to create unique training activities to match each pattern.

Recreate field situations virtually

More futuristically, BWCs may start to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) technology to stitch together video and recreate specific scenarios.

“By developing a repository of police interactions for training, you can create very realistic - not just hypothetical - situations in a low-risk environment,” Makin said.

Makin suggests instructing by deconstructing how individual officers approach incidents.

“Showing effectiveness of different strategies and leveraging best practices of officers becomes an opportunity to promote best practices using real interactions within the agency, rather than calling out individual officers,” says Makin.

VR recreations can be used to train on everything from traffic stops to large-scale gatherings or mass casualty events. This type of training would be great for academy curriculum, in-service training hours and self-paced online training as well.

Change before improvement

All of these advancements can provide countless benefits, but researchers, educators and leaders need to better understand how new technology and information is impacting job performance of the officers in the field before implementing new policies for change.

Many technologists are quick to assume that every new bell and whistle will be useful. But are they? There are already a significant amount of tools accessible to an officer in the field.

“We also have to ask, what is information overload for an officer in the field?” Willits said.

“At what point will an officer become inundated with too much information. What can they process and still do their job effectively,” Makin said

Researchers don’t know the answers to these questions yet. But the picture will start to come into focus as BWC footage from today is used more often in tomorrow’s training.