While it’s true that many people believe that the use of things like dash cameras or body cameras helps maintain accountability for police officers across the country, this is only one small part of a much larger story. According to a number of studies, equipping officers with body cameras in particular is an effective way to “improve the behavior of officers.” The number of civilian complaints in areas where body cameras are in heavy use tends to fall dramatically soon after their initial rollout.
Body cameras also help keep the officers themselves safe, too. Situations that required the use of force ALSO fell dramatically when civilians knew they were being recorded, creating a situation where almost everyone benefits from this breakthrough technology and proactive approach to policing.
Such is the case with the Orlando Police Department, who recently announced that they would begin phasing out their existing dash camera systems in favor of newer body cams moving forward. While the decision is not without its fair share of controversy, it will bring a number of benefits to the table for both the department and the communities it serves that wouldn’t be possible in other circumstances.
The Orlando PD and Dash Cams: How We Got to This Point
The Orlando Police Department’s move toward body cams was actually spawned in part from an incident that took place in July of 2015. Officer Will Anderson had pulled over a teenager that night, something he had done countless times before. However, as Anderson moved to the front of the suspect’s vehicle, the car sped away — seriously injuring him in the process. The video of the incident, recorded from the dash camera in Will Anderson’s cruiser, became a key piece of evidence in the eventual criminal trial against the teenage driver and his passenger.
While it’s true that Will Anderson wasn’t actually wearing a body camera on that fateful evening, department officials argue that such a device would actually have done a better job of capturing this and other interactions with the public. Because body cameras move with the officer, they are actually much more effective when it comes to recording an event in context as opposed to a dash cam with a fixed position.
While a department-wide rollout of body cameras will increase visibility and accountability throughout the Orlando area, this isn’t a transition that is going to take place over night. As of June 2017, only about 30 of the 450 first-responding officers in the Orlando Police Department have body cameras. Another 50 will roll out across July, but that still barely accounts for 20 percent of the total demand.
An additional factor that will need to be addressed moving forward is one of cost. In December of 2016, the Orlando PD received a series of bids from a number of manufacturers with regard to transitioning to this technology moving forward. The winning bid ultimately came from tech giant Motorola. The company says that it will take about $1.1 million to supply body cameras for all 450 first-responders over the next few years and an additional $800,000 per year to store the data that is constantly being recorded and collected.
Serving the Public Trust
Despite these costs and the logistical challenges, this is still a step that department officials consider to be more than worth taking. Spokeswoman Kim Cannaday said that “body-worn and in-car cameras enhance accountability and transparency.” Chuck Drago, a retired Florida police chief and current law enforcement consultant, argued that this should not be an “either/or” proposition in the first place. Drago says that in his experience, a combination of both body cameras AND dash cameras will be required to help the department accomplish its goals in the future.
“I think they enhance one another,” said Drago. “Certainly body cams have a value, but they are limited. Same with dash cams.”