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The untapped potential of body-worn cameras in law enforcement training

Despite the widespread adoption of bodycams, there remains a surprising gap in their utilization within entry-level and in-service training programs

body-worn camera

AP Photo/Jim Mone

By Greg Sheehan

In modern law enforcement, body-worn camera (BWC) systems have become ubiquitous tools for enhancing transparency and accountability while strengthening public trust. However, despite their widespread adoption, there remains a surprising gap in their utilization within entry-level and in-service training programs.

This article explores the reasons why law enforcement agencies may not regularly incorporate BWC video into their training curriculum and highlights some of the many potential benefits of doing so.

Key factors hindering the use of BWC video in police training

Resource constraints

Limited resources, especially financial and personnel, often constrain the ability of law enforcement agencies to fully integrate BWC videos into their training programs. Managing and analyzing the vast amounts of latent video footage generated by BWC systems to identify relevant training content is resource intensive. As a result, law enforcement leaders must weigh the return on investing their limited resources into the production of BWC video-centered training materials.

Technological challenges

Recent advancements in BWC video analytics technology have made more cost-effective and efficient solutions available for adoption, but extracting actionable insights from latent BWC footage without such a tool remains a time-consuming and labor-intensive process. Moreover, the robust integration of BWC video into law enforcement training programs may require investing in specialized software (e.g. digital editing, video production, learning management systems, etc.) and the expertise to utilize it, both of which may not be readily available. Additionally, law enforcement agencies must remain cognizant of the many legal and data security liabilities inherent in the removal of any BWC video data from its secure native environment.

Training priorities and curriculum design

Law enforcement training programs are often shaped by a multitude of factors, including legal mandates, accreditation standards, recent local events and agency-specific needs. Incorporating BWC video into existing training programs requires careful consideration of the content’s relevance to core competencies and mandatory learning objectives. Transitioning from antiquated law enforcement training techniques to new technologies and delivery approaches that favor microlearning and team-based collaboration may require a large-scale overhaul of existing instructional designs and instructor skill sets.

Cultural resistance

Resistance to change within the law enforcement community is a real problem that often impedes the rapid adoption of new technologies and best practices. Some law enforcement officers may incorrectly view the use of their BWC video in training as an intrusion into their privacy, a critique of their performance, or as another level of oversight and scrutiny, leading to reluctance or outright opposition to the use of BWC video as a training aid. As a result, some law enforcement leaders may shortsightedly opt to not utilize BWC video or only permit the use of BWC video from other agencies in their training program rather than addressing these internal impediments head-on and creating a more adaptable culture of continuous learning and professional development.

Legal and ethical considerations

Privacy concerns, particularly regarding the dissemination of sensitive footage or the exposure of personal identifiable information, pose significant legal and ethical challenges, especially in jurisdictions with strict local or state laws governing the open distribution or use of BWC video. Safeguarding the privacy rights of individuals captured on BWC video necessitates careful policy development and strict adherence to relevant laws and regulations. The same holds true for navigating the rights of law enforcement officers and the rules governing the workplaces where these devices are deployed.


Advanced body-worn camera technology plays a crucial role in enhancing officer safety and strengthening the bond between the police and the community

Benefits of incorporating BWC video into police training

Igniting performance

Central to the enhancement of law enforcement capabilities is the caliber and frequency of training that officers receive. Rigorous and frequently recurring training not only refines essential skills but also cultivates a culture of continuous learning and adaptability. It equips officers with the tools to navigate complex scenarios effectively while upholding professional standards. As officers become more adept at handling complex situations, the overall effectiveness of law enforcement operations improves, ensuring a safer community for all.

Boosting morale

Thoroughly reviewing BWC videos enables supervisors and trainers to provide individualized constructive feedback and recognize exemplary performance more frequently. This feedback loop fosters a culture of continuous learning and professional growth, thereby boosting morale and supporting well-being. When law enforcement officers feel supported and valued by their agency, they exhibit higher job satisfaction, leading to increased productivity and performance.

Increasing recruitment and retention

High quality and frequently recurring training creates well-prepared and confident law enforcement officers who are more likely to stay in their positions, reducing the need for recruiting and training of new officers. Lower turnover rates lead to cost savings, as agencies avoid the substantial expenses associated with repeatedly recruiting, hiring and training new personnel. Moreover, by routinely investing in professional development and employee recognition programs, law enforcement agencies may gain an advantage in recruiting top talent.

Improving returns on investment

Every law enforcement agency’s BWC program represents a sizable and long-term financial investment with an unsatisfactory benefit-cost ratio. This is partially due to the drastic underutilization of these programs’ primary output, thousands of hours of BWC video. Latent law enforcement BWC video libraries represent an untapped repository of real-world first-person perspective scenarios that can be utilized for several purposes, including training, which can drastically improve upon the benefits realized from these large financial investments.

Mitigating risk

Training programs that incorporate the analysis of BWC video can mitigate risk and liability by identifying areas for improvement in low-frequency high-risk situations. Critical analysis can also include adherence to policies and procedures, utilization of best practices and safe tactics, and appropriate respect for community members in an effort to avoid situations that may lead to lawsuits or allegations of misconduct.

Exceeding community expectations

Community members rightly expect law enforcement agencies to serve and protect their interests with well-trained professional officers. By investing in high quality training programs like those that utilize BWC video, law enforcement agencies can exceed this expectation by equipping their officers with the knowledge and skills needed to uphold the law ethically and effectively. This alignment between community expectations and law enforcement capabilities strengthens the bond between law enforcement and the public, contributing to a safer and more just society.

Enhancing legitimacy

By incorporating BWC video into entry-level and in-service training programs, law enforcement agencies demonstrate a commitment to transparency and accountability to the communities they serve. When the public sees that their local officers are professionally trained and routinely held to a high standard, trust and legitimacy deepens which fosters stronger partnerships and safer neighborhoods.

Conclusion

To address the underutilization of BWC video within entry-level and in-service training programs, law enforcement leaders and their training management teams must make a concerted and sustained effort to identify and incorporate examples of positive police–community interactions that showcase the exemplary performance of their officers. Currently, the most efficient way to identify these examples within latent BWC video stores is through the use of a BWC analytics technology solution. This technology is far more effective and reliable than any randomized or directed BWC review process conducted by staff members. If a BWC analytics technology solution is currently not an option, the staff members tasked with identifying examples within your agency’s BWC video evidence management system must be primed with clear directions on what to look for and trained on all of the search tools available to make the process as efficient and effective as possible.

While there are valid challenges and considerations to address, the full integration of BWC video into law enforcement training holds tremendous potential for expanding the overall frequency and quality of training. Moreover, it can also enhance performance and morale, improve recruitment and retention, mitigate risk, and bolster a law enforcement agency’s legitimacy through transparency and accountability. By overcoming resource constraints, leveraging recent technological advancements, promoting a culture of innovation, appropriately addressing legal and ethical concerns, and prioritizing the professional development of officers, many law enforcement agencies can realize the full benefits of this invaluable tool.

About the author

Greg Sheehan is the Director of Training at Truleo. He retired from law enforcement as an Inspector of Police after twenty-seven years with the New York City Police Department, having served in multiple capacities including Program Director of the Police Academy. He is a graduate of the Police Management Institute at Columbia Business School and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University where he was the Richard L. Gelb scholar in public administration. His interests include public safety training and body-worn camera analytics, topics that have allowed him to identify and deploy scalable solutions to today’s toughest law enforcement recruitment, training, and retention problems. For questions or comments contact him at greg@truleo.co.

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