Bodycams : eyewitnesses that all parties can trust
In the modern world, video footage dominates the written word. Police-citizen interactions are at the forefront of debate in many countries, with a desire for clear, objective and unbiased evidence when tensions rise. Bodycams answer that desire as ideal eyewitnesses for law enforcement and citizens alike.
“ (in a situation).. there will be a lot of things said in 30 minutes, and you can simply not write down everything from a half an hour conversation. Without bodycam images, you will know the main thread in the situation and what has happened, but now you can, with permission, look back and see who has been verbally aggressive and such. With bodycam footage it is a question of playing the evidence and you will miss nothing.” – Anonymous Belgian police officer
Bodycams: eyewitnesses that back-up police reports
Police and other law enforcement agencies often have the difficult task of providing complete information of interactions, crimes and statements made during an incident. In the past, this was done by a written police report, drafted after the conclusion of an interaction or incident. This naturally led to gaps as in any incident a lot of things occur, and a lot of statements are made. Now, with modern technology we can fill those gaps through the power of video evidence. When bodycams are switched on, an objective witness is present that can provide lots of useful information to support police conduct and reporting. Bodycams provide:
- Complete video and auditory evidence of what was said and done, leading to greatly improved evidence collection
- More complete evidence which supports in-depth, objective reporting of an incident after its conclusion
- A memory boost to make sure that all important evidence is reported for interactions in which it is usually impossible for any person to see and hear everything that occurred
- Evidence which cannot be corrupted by human emotions or memory, chaos during an interaction, or physical tampering (in the case of encrypted bodycams with restricted access within the video management software).
Bodycams provide courts with a new gold standard for situational evidence as human eyewitnesses are often influenced by the situation, leading to heightened emotions and the chance for gaps or corruptions in memory. Bodycam footage has joined forensic evidence such as DNA and fingerprinting as crucial evidence for the objective analysis of any crime. In the United States, where bodycams have a longer history, many courts even consider an absence of bodycam evidence itself as noteworthy. Consistent use of bodycam furthermore instills trust in law enforcement institutions and proceedings, and shows the correct handling by police officers in the line of duty.
“We always work within the bounds of the law, and so sometimes, for example, I get asked if I have a warrant and I will explain it in a certain way. It is then important that this explanation of my police rights is recorded to protect me against unjustified claims and there will be no discussion afterwards. These are the moments that I consciously use the bodycam for that.”- Anonymous chief inspector.
Bodycams replace human witnesses as sources of reliable, objective evidence
“Gone are the days when we must use witness testimony to piece together what really happens between encounters between police and defendants. Today we can literally go to the videotape and press play. A recording of a police encounter can clear up any discrepancies that may exist between the police officer’s and defendant’s accounts.” – Source: Bestlawyers.com
Law firms are embracing bodycam technology as they provide complete and objective evidence from an unbiased witness. Whether it is to defend officer conduct, or support a criminal defense, bodycam evidence can make or break a case. Eyewitness accounts have even been replaced by bodycams as the main reliable source of witness evidence. Human eyewitnesses can often be influenced or incorrect due to the severe psychological stress of an intense situation; the ‘fight-or-flight’ response can severely impact memory. With neutral systems such as bodycams, courts and lawyers can remove doubts with complete evidence unaffected by human emotion.
What’s more, a years long bodycam pilot has been conducted in Australia related to witness statements in cases of domestic violence. A bodycam provides Digitally Recorded Evidence-in-Chief (DREC) which may replace all, or parts of formal written statements and is used to provide more complete evidence in cases of family/domestic violence. Reforms are now underway in some states after positive experiences showed that:
- The eyewitness and the evidence they provide are more complete, and protected from outside influence
- Bodycam statements can reduce trauma for survivors as they only have to make a statement once
- Statements recorded with a bodycam right after an incident result in more evidence as everything that occurred is still fresh in the mind
- Bodycams capture the fresh emotions present after an incident, which say a lot about what actually happened
As bodycam programs spread worldwide, both law enforcement organisations and citizens will further experience the added benefit of having an objective and unbiased witness. Bodycam technology can improve police-citizen interactions, provide crucial evidence for both parties and allow courts to gain more information than with traditional methods such as written reports or eyewitness testimony.