At present, the United States is grappling with the intersection of three big issues – the troubled relationship between law enforcement and many of those they police, the generation of a massive digital database that gives the government access to digital information about every facet of our lives in ‘big data’, and the role of new and old media in documenting the relationship between the government and the governed. In response to the information deficits policymakers face in deciphering the truth from conflicting reports from participants in what are often stressful and emotionally volatile situations, many police departments have adopted body-worn video, or “badge cams.” A clear-eyed look at the challenges requires good information, both to support police when they do their incredibly difficult jobs well and to discipline those who fail to meet the high standards we expect of those whose job is to protect and serve. As the technology advances, we can expect the devices to become even better at capturing and storing information and more affordable to issue on a per-officer basis. And we can expect the amount of data generated to grow, along with the desire of multiple parties to reach it. We can also anticipate new features for the hardware, for example autonomous drones or multi-spectrum cameras, and new software that can identify and track facial features, or voices, and perhaps chemical signatures. The challenges that come with this burgeoning technology make further study a priority.
As departments develop systems to create, store and retrieve the data, policymakers must balance the interests of privacy, law enforcement, and good government as they decide who else can access the information and under what conditions. Law enforcement needs reliable and admissible evidence for court. Police departments also need to be able to evaluate and support or discipline employees. Local government and civil rights officials need to provide oversight and accountability. Reporters – broadly defined - need access so that they can report on specific cases and on broader policy issues. And as citizens, we all need to understand what the police do in our name.
Policies for the creation and use of body-worn video that address these wide-ranging issues and draw the appropriate balances with full input from all of the stakeholders are thin on the ground. Today, the needs of law enforcement have taken top billing, because police and prosecutors are leading the way as drafters of departmental policies. Legislators and civil rights activists and litigators are only now beginning to grapple with the privacy and access concerns of the press and the public. Some of these questions have been discussed before, but ubiquitous body-worn video is a difference in degree that will become a difference in kind.
What policymakers and stakeholders need is a roadmap for the future that accurately and concisely lays out the choices and tradeoffs inherent in system design. We propose a symposium focused on helping to create just such a roadmap. Authors will be asked to address, inter alia: 1) law enforcement officials and prosecutors and their experiences and needs; 2) members of the press, leveraging the contacts at the UNC center on Media Law and Policy, to talk about their experiences and needs; and, 3) as many stakeholders as possible from across the spectrum to discuss the ways in which the data that body cameras generate can tie back to the larger issues of trust between the public and the police. The symposium would raise the profile of the issue, and create an input point for a wide range of stakeholders from across the political and practical spectrum. It would also be self-consciously designed to create a network of stakeholders who would meet and begin talking to each other. Facilitating these conversations, and ensuring safe spaces for people to talk to rather than past each other would be an important component of this early process. The meetings would generate information, ideas and relationships.
This symposium on the Future of Body-Worn Video that examines the policy and legal issues from a variety of perspectives, including a draft of a model statute covering the generation, storage, access and use of the digital data created by body-worn video. The White Paper would identify best practices from the policies already in place, identify unresolved challenges, and suggest ways to be inclusive and comprehensive in the design of future policies.