Research confirms: The added value of bodycam systems for police

86% of polled police officers in the Netherlands recently stated that bodycams offer a lot of added value to their job. Their experiences have been positive and researchers have further found that the use of bodycams is beneficial for many more operational needs than de-escalation and the prevention of aggression or abuse.

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Nearly three quarters of police officers experienced that bodycams work preventively to combat rising aggression and abuse. After only a short time nearly 70% indicate that the bodycams work to de-escalate incidents, as well as increase the daily safety of police officers. The results of the new research by known bodycam researcher Sander Flight also show that bodycams can effectively be used for many more essential policing tasks.

Investigation: a needed use bodycams for policing

Dozens, if not hundreds of investigations a year in the Netherlands alone are supported by bodycam systems that record and safely store evidence. In Scotland, an experiment with bodycam footage showed that suspects confessed more often after viewing the bodycam evidence, leading to more admissions of guilt and 75% less court cases. The bodycam footage has served especially well in cases of violence against or by the police. Many instances were found that vindicated officer conduct through bodycam evidence which showed their correct handling of an escalating situation. A special case was the famous riot of the 2020-2021 New year in Leeuwarden:

CCTV cameras had recorded a suspect committing violence against police but this was not usable due to the suspect’s hoodie and scarf that covered their face. A police bodycam had recorded an earlier interaction with the suspect, allowing for the identification of the suspect based on clothing and most essentially, their voice. The bodycam resulted in hard evidence linking the suspect to violence against the police and their consequent sentencing. Furthermore, the judge was able to experience the danger and intensity of those riots, allowing for a better understanding of the situation.

The research also found that bodycam footage has helped in providing extra information for the writing of police reports. The bodycam records every word that was said, leading to the more complete and accurate reporting of an escalating incident. The bodycams provided more concrete evidence for conviction and also proving that interactions with the public went according the rules. In one instance a police officer attempted to arrest a suspect without having taken his bodycam, while the suspect conducted life threatening manoeuvres with his car. Their answer said enough:

”If only we had filmed this, then there would be no discussion about the dangers resulting from the suspects’ actions.”(1)

Training and evaluation: most added value of bodycams for police

The research by Sander Flight found that nearly every police officer could name some time where they learned from seeing their own recorded bodycam footage. Bodycam recordings have been used by police to asses their own actions, to optimise actions and operations, and to reflect. The footage also helped coaches be able to give good, actionable feedback to trainees. They have also sometimes been beneficial in showing a suspect their actions, leading to positive impacts on their personal life. A selection of how bodycams added value to the continual learning of police officers:

A police officer found by watching bodycam footage of his actions that he dangerously moved between two cars, which could have been potentially dangerous for himself and the conclusion of the operation. They indicated that seeing the bodycam footage resulted in better internalisation: this incident is remembered clearly and helps to avoid it in the future.

Bodycam footage of an aggressive citizen was securely shown to municipal employees, who were prepared for escalation s as a direct result of seeing videos of interactions made by the bodycam.

Bodycam footage also taught several officers more about how enter a residence, what to do and especially which tools to use, and how to use them.

By using bodycam footage to show psychological care workers the mental state of a patient, police officers were able to efficiently communicate their state, and the risks involved. This helped staff of the facility plan the right approach and treatment of a patient.

Seeing bodycam footage of their own actions was found to be confrontational and educational for the majority of police officers. Resultingly, the majority of officers find that bodycams are very valuable for training and evaluation.

“Eyewitness accounts are often not completely accurate, I have learned that as a detective. The bodycam videos allow subjective experiences to be supported by objective evidence. I was a live witness thanks to bodycam footage, and this helped me a lot.”(2)

Livestreaming: a great future added value of  bodycams for policing

A picture is worth a thousand words is a known expression all across the world, and bodycams prove its accuracy. Whether it is the recording of objective evidence, or sharing live images of an operation, images and footage can quickly and clearly communicate all the necessary facts. Livestreaming bodycams can not only provide efficient communication, they can also increase the level of expertise on the frontline by allowing others to watch, asses and input whenever and wherever necessary.

Some of the many possible uses of livestreaming bodycams:

1. Firefighters can livestream their operation to structural engineers in order to asses whether it is safe to enter a building.

2. Paramedics can give lifesaving instructions to police officers trying to save someone’s life before an ambulance arrives.

3. Senior police officers can leverage their experience by following junior officers live during an operation.

4. Large scale events can be more easily managed through central command and access to live footage from the frontline. Livestreaming bodycams were used during the Nuclear Security Summit in the Hague where police officers were positive about their experiences: they felt more confident, could realise increased oversight, and the added information improved their decision making.

5. Arrests can be more efficiently supported by colleagues, as they can see and know exactly how the arrest is going and give precise support whenever this is necessary.

6. Employees of the command post that haven’t been out on the frontline learn valuable experiences through witnessing the operations conducted by their colleagues in real-time.

7. Reducing the time needed for decisions, as communication and analysis of a situation occurs instantly through livestreamed footage.

The conclusions show that besides the proven mechanisms of prevention and de-escalation, bodycams offer a needed tool for many other uses. Police officers can be further supported by bodycam systems in investigations, analysis, training and evaluation, as well as directly supported through livestreaming technology.

(1-2) Flight, Sander (2021). Bodycams breder bekeken: onderzoek naar bredere toepassing van bodycams door de politie. In opdracht van: Nationale Politie, Programma Sensing.

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