How to get more out of your bodycam video
Audit software can help your agency speed up the review process, improve officer performance and reduce potential liability
Sponsored by Frontline Public Safety Solutions
By Tim Dees for Police1 BrandFocus
Body-worn camera programs are maybe the hottest ticket in law enforcement. They’re also one of the most deceptively expensive programs. Archiving the video soon costs more than you paid for the cameras, and supervisors find themselves chained to video monitors, reviewing the minimum number of segments they’re required to audit each week or month.
Is there a way to make the review and audit process more efficient?
Absent an audit and review procedure, much of the accountability benefit for BWC video is lost. If a supervisor limits his or her review of only videos associated with a documented use of force or a citizen’s complaint of misconduct, they’re seeing only the problems that have come to fruition. By reviewing incidents that were allegedly more routine, the supervisor may see behaviors that indicate a festering problem. An officer might have a propensity for using foul language around gang members or certain minorities, or they conduct unproductive searches of vehicles without adequate probable cause or the driver’s consent.
These are problems that can and should be remediated before they turn into embarrassing courtroom sessions or personnel complaints.
Important as the review process is, it’s a time sink. There is no practical way to review a 45-minute video in less than 45 minutes, and even that assumes the reviewer doesn’t have to document any remarkable behavior in the video. If a supervisor is mandated to review two randomly-selected videos per week from each of the eight officers who report to him, that’s 16 hours – roughly, two full working days – dedicated to sitting in front of a glorified television set, and that assumes there are no videos from critical incidents that mandate a special review.
SAVE TIME, STANDARDIZE REVIEWS WITH AUDIT SOFTWARE
BWC Audits software from Frontline Public Safety Solutions aims to make the review process more efficient and effective. The software includes evaluation forms where the reviewer may need to only check some boxes and make brief comments when the actions recorded in the video are all within policy. Conduct that is below the agency’s standard of performance is flagged and documented, as is outstanding, superior performance.
This benefit of recognizing exceptionally good performance is important if officers are to give the review process any credibility. Too often, the only time an officer hears from management is when they have done something wrong. A good supervisor looks at least as hard for reasons to praise subordinates as for below-standard incidents.
The BWC Audits software can be set to randomly select video files, so the supervisor sees a more representative sample of the officer’s work. Random selection of reviewed video is also more defensible in challenges to discipline or termination, showing that disfavored officers are not targeted for special reviews. Without this, an officer may argue that a supervisor was “out to get him” and “cherry-picked” video files to show the officer in the worst possible light.
BWC Audits provides sample evaluation checklists, but each evaluation form can be customized to fit the agency’s requirements. Evaluations may be scored with a point system or by narrative comments. A points system may not be as descriptive as one based on narrative, but it does produce statistics that are easier to present to local government leaders and community groups. For example, if the agency shows that 98% of the officer-citizen contacts documented by video demonstrate compliance with agency policies, that assertion might be more meaningful than claiming that most of the video reviewed shows no misconduct. Those leaders or citizens who are not swayed by statistics can be allowed to review the video themselves.
The evaluation forms, which can be customized by the agency, break down the elements of police-citizen contacts into easily-rated categories, as follows:
- Was the device assigned and worn properly?
- Was the device activated for the entire duration of the incident?
- If the device was deactivated for a part of the incident, was there a circumstance that fit a deactivation exception (communication with a confidential informant, interview with a juvenile, etc.)?
- Was the officer courteous and professional?
- Did the incident show exceptional performance worthy of a commendation or award?
Questions can be answered yes, no or not applicable, with narrative comments required for some responses. Supervisors can rate most videos in under a minute.
IDENTIFY SPECIFIC TRAINING NEEDS WITH VIDEO AUDITS
When reviews indicate unusual behavior patterns among the officers depicted in the video, BWC Audits will compile automatic reports to the appropriate supervisors or administrators. The reports show the performance of officers both numerically and graphically, making it easier for supervisors to tailor training and counseling for officers who demonstrate problem behavior.
Because superior behavior is also documented, the reports may suggest which officers could serve as peer trainers for the below-standard performers, making the remediation task an easier pill to swallow. When problem behavior persists despite remediation efforts, the BWC Audits reports serve as evidence of the effort to use training and progressive discipline to improve performance before the officer is penalized for his or her conduct.
Because BWC Audits considers video ratings as far back as the agency desires, behaviors that might have gone unnoticed are brought to light. Say that the agency requires officers to introduce themselves immediately during non-tactical citizen contacts, i.e. “Good morning. I’m Officer Joe Schmutz with the Anytown Police Department.” If that is a rated element in an audit form, the supervisor can see how many times Joe might have failed to do that, even if the failures were spaced out over a year.
Each agency decides what elements to review and how far back they want to look. The agency might choose to grade performance as satisfactory if that requirement was met 95% of the time, so officers don’t have to be concerned about the occasional and unintentional slip.
Although BWC Audits is nominally a tool for evaluating the video from body-worn cameras, the software is equally effective for reviewing output from dash-mounted cameras on patrol vehicles. BWC Audits includes checklists and rating guides designed specifically for dashcam video, and users are equally free to adapt these rating forms or produce their own from scratch.
Analysis tools for every level of management show how the BWC program is performing. There are longitudinal reports for each officer, showing performance over time, as well as other reports to compare the work of officers assigned to the same squad, shift or division. Top-level reports illustrate overall performance for the benefit of community leaders. The reports can be configured for both tabular and graphical formats for inclusion in comprehensive annual “state of the agency” publications or presentations for meetings.
BWC Audits can also save money by lowering the agency’s insurance premiums. When an agency moves to deter undesirable behaviors recorded on video before those behaviors generate a misconduct complaint or a civil lawsuit, the agency demonstrates its efforts to be proactive in identifying problem officers. Done effectively, that can lower the agency’s risk management profile.
Considering the cost versus the potential risk or reward, BWC Audits software should be on the consideration list for any agency with a BWC or dashcam video program.
For more information, visit Frontline Public Safety Solutions.
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