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Why your department should audit bodycam video

Benefits include better tracking, improved training, reduced risks and increased safety for officers and citizens alike


Sponsored by Frontline Public Safety Solutions

By Philip J. Swift for Police1 BrandFocus

Even before body-worn cameras captured the first police and civilian interaction, the value and proper use of the captured data has been a hotly debated issue among activists, academics, the media, the public, unions and law enforcement agencies. Although many of these groups did not and do not always see eye to eye, the one thing everyone agrees on is that the images captured by bodycams are an indispensable tool that offers an unbiased record of interactions between officers and civilians.

Most U.S. law enforcement agencies have body-worn cameras now, but are they making the most of the video data collected? A robust bodycam audit process creates opportunities to improve training, reduce liabilities and increase safety.
Most U.S. law enforcement agencies have body-worn cameras now, but are they making the most of the video data collected? A robust bodycam audit process creates opportunities to improve training, reduce liabilities and increase safety. (Getty)

With the growing call for police oversight, body-worn cameras have become so interwoven into modern law enforcement culture that the existence of BWC data and its contents is often the first question raised following complaints of misconduct. Unfortunately, because BWC data has become synonymous with misconduct allegations and police oversight, bodycams are primarily seen as a regulatory tool with little consideration given to other ways that this data could improve police operations.

But there are many ways to use BWC data beyond its regulatory function. In particular, a robust bodycam audit process creates an opportunity to proactively improve the interaction between an officer and the public before complaints are filed or a critical incident arises.

Admittedly, data audits are not always the most exciting topic of conversation, but auditing is a necessary part of data and personnel management that agencies cannot afford to overlook. In this article, we explore four undeniable reasons why agencies should audit BWC data:

AUDITS AID IN THE TRACKING AND MANAGEMENT OF BWC DATA

According to a 2016 Bureau of Justice Statistics study, 47% of law enforcement agencies in the U.S. purchased bodycams, 80% of which were large agencies (Hyland, 2018). With over 800,000 officers in the U.S., it can be assumed that approximately 376,000 officers use BWCs annually (Law enforcement facts 2021 & Hyland, 2018).

The wide deployment of BWCs creates hundreds of thousands of hours of data that frontline supervisors are often required to review on top of their other duties. The sheer volume of data involved in such a task is staggering, and managing such an undertaking can be overwhelming without a proven and tested process.

Adding a BWC data audit software, like BWC Audits offered by Frontline Public Safety Solutions, into an existing data management plan can ease the burden of auditing such a massive influx of data. This application allows agencies to review video in a standardized process and apply information garnered in a cost-effective and simple manner. Further, BWC audit software can reduce the fiscal impact of the auditing process by reducing the hours that a manual audit process requires.

A quality BWC data audit software package allows agencies to track what data was captured, what data has been reviewed and the content of the video reviewed, as well as manage retention requirements while safeguarding evidentiary data.

Using BWC Audits software from Frontline Public Safety Solutions can ease the burden of auditing body-worn camera video by providing a standardized process that saves time and yields more consistent analysis.
Using BWC Audits software from Frontline Public Safety Solutions can ease the burden of auditing body-worn camera video by providing a standardized process that saves time and yields more consistent analysis. (Frontline Public Safety Solutions)

AUDITS CAN HELP YOUR AGENCY IMPROVE TRAINING AND REDUCE TRAINING EXPENSES

The expense associated with training officers is always a budgetary issue that must be justified annually, and it’s a common complaint that officers are not receiving enough training or the right kind of training. Between legislative training requirements and the constant need to adjust training to an ever-changing law enforcement environment, agencies must maximize and justify every training dollar or risk liability and allegations of incompetence.

The most effective means of extracting the most value from each training dollar is to use an objective, data-driven process to determine what shortfalls or gaps in training exist rather than a subjective approach based on anecdotal information. BWC Audits software allows users to objectively evaluate bodycam data to determine if there are training gaps, if officers are applying their current training correctly, and whether or not the application of the training is achieving its stated goal, ( de-escalation, professionalism, compliance, etc.).

This real-world analysis enables users to make proactive training decisions that provide officers with relevant and timely training while reducing costs by accurately recognizing needs. Additionally, BWC audits can provide administrators with the necessary documentation to justify training expenses and defend against lawsuits making a tort claim based on a “failure to train.”

REDUCE RISKS AND LIABILITY THROUGH BWC AUDITS

Since BWC data has proven to be an effective tool for reducing risk and liability following complaints or after a critical incident arises, it is reasonable to assume that a proactive approach to BWC data can identify and address potential risks and liabilities before officers come face-to-face with them.

BWC audit software solutions offer agencies the ability to do just that by tracking actions taken by officers across multiple interactions and shifts. When BWC auditors identify undesired behavior before a policy or the procedure of law is violated, early intervention strategies can be used to reduce the amount of liability the agency and the officer could potentially face.

BWC AUDITS CAN HELP YOUR AGENCY IMPROVE OFFICER AND CITIZEN SAFETY

Above all, the primary benefit of BWC audits is the potential to help your agency improve officer and public safety. When BWC audits are conducted often and thoroughly, and necessary adjustments made based on the findings, the result is a well-trained and professional force who are protected from the pitfalls of complacency and prepared for whatever circumstance they find themselves in.

Furthermore, when officer and public safety is prioritized, morale is improved, trauma is reduced, and the legitimacy of the agency grows in the eyes of the community it serves.

For more information, visit Frontline Public Safety Solutions.

Read Next: How to get more out of your bodycam video

About the Author

Philip J. Swift is currently serving as a City Marshal in the DFW area of Texas and has been a law enforcement officer since 1998. He holds a Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology and his areas of research include behavioral learning theory, cognitive schemes, group psychology, and historical trauma theory. He has several published works and regularly speaks locally and nationally regarding his research and expertise in law enforcement and criminal culture.

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