Body Cameras for Private Security Officers? It is coming.

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Body Cameras for Private Security Officers? It is coming.

Camera technology has advanced to the point that high quality video and audio can now be captured from tiny cameras worn on an officer’s sunglasses, collar, cap, or even a regular uniform shirt. As a result, more and more police departments across the United States – both large and small, are starting to equip their officers with body cameras. Some capture just video but some also capture audio.

Thus far this technology is relatively new and there has been very little empirical research conducted on the benefits of such cameras, but the general thinking among police managers is that when people know that they are being filmed, most people will behave more appropriately. And that includes the officers who are wearing the cameras. This hypothesis sounds reasonable.

A recent study on the use of body cameras by the Rialto  California police department showed that citizen complaints against officers dropped precipitously by almost 90% and use of force by officers declined by 60%. I predict that future studies on body cameras worn by police officers will have similar findings. Like it or not, good or bad, it is the future of policing in the United States.

Benefits of Body Cameras.

Even though most police agencies in the United States have not yet equipped their officers with body cameras, those that have can point to instances when suspects have pled guilty when faced with video of their actions and cases where plaintiff’s alleging police misconduct have dismissed their civil suits when they discovered that there is video evidence that does not support their case. All of this sounds quite good. The police do their jobs while using less force, crooks plead guilty, and those who have no real case drop their civil suits.

When I was a patrol officer I would have been very “uneasy” with a camera documenting my daily interactions with the many people I contacted each day. I would have been concerned that upper level police brass – far removed from street police work, or some form of a “Citizen Review Board” would second guess my decisions and every action and use the video to unfairly discipline me. I am sure there are still officers working our streets who share this concern but times have changed. It has been my experience that most of the younger officers who are now patrolling our streets are much more comfortable with this type of technology and like the fact that complaints against them can be quickly disproven with video evidence. I had one young officer express it to me by saying “When you do your job right you have nothing to worry about. Video protects me from frivolous complaints and saves the department money. They don’t have to spend a lot of time and resources investigating complaints and defending frivolous lawsuits.” Well said . . . well said.

Body Cameras for Private Security Officers?

The widespread use of body cameras for security officers probably won’t happen anytime soon, but I foresee the day in the not-to-distant future when private security officers are also equipped with body cameras. When a security officer responds to an incident, the officer can activate the body camera with the simple push of a button. This will provide a real time recording of the event and create an objective record of the events as they unfold.

Saving and Storing Camera Data.

The cost of body cameras is becoming less and less of an issue as good quality body camera can now be purchased for around $500. However, the storage of video captured by cameras is becoming an increasingly big issue. The most important factors when considering data storage are accessibility and reliability. The data must be accessible and the storage method must be reliable. That is, the data must be where it is supposed to be and easy to retrieve when needed. Additionally, information technology security is a vital component to making sure that the video footage is preserved and remains undisturbed for the full period of retention.

Typically, body camera video footage is uploaded by the officer at the end of the shift to an in-house server or an external cloud server. But storing all this video data onsite or in the cloud can be expensive. Most private security companies will likely take a wait and see approach on how law enforcement agencies cope with this before they start equipping their officers with cameras.

Legal Considerations.

Beyond the costs and logistics of storing hours and hours of video in a manner where it can be easily retrieved when needed, recording incidents as they unfold can create legal liability issues. Law enforcement has been able to navigate the legality of using body cameras, but private security companies might be a little more circumspect. The key to understanding the legal implications depends on the type of video footage. Silent video footage versus visual video footage with audio creates different legal responsibilities. 

Silent Video Footage

If the video footage has no sound, there are relatively few federal and state laws governing the collection of footage. It is generally legal to record surveillance video in public places and premises open to the public. If the premise is a completely private premise such as stores, restaurants, and other businesses, the owners of the property could certainly allow security officers to use body cameras. After all, it is just another form of surveillance. While it may not be necessary, it may be best practice for a business to post signs notifying individuals on the premises that body worn recording devices are in use by security. These signs are relatively inexpensive and when prominently placed they have the added benefit of serving as a deterrent to potential criminals and wrongdoers who may be reluctant to proceed knowing their actions will be caught on camera.

Recording video is generally illegal in places where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy. This includes places such as restrooms and changing areas.

Audio and Visual Video Footage

When video footage includes both picture and audio, there are more laws to ensure compliance with. Federal and state wiretapping laws may impact a security company’s ability to record video footage, especially if that footage contains sound. The wire tapping laws were originally designed to deal with telephone communications and generally have not kept up with new technology. But, modernly, these laws also apply to video recording that includes sound. If violated, wiretapping laws could expose the security company to potential criminal prosecution as well as giving rise to civil liability for a claim for money damages against the company.

The federal laws set the minimum standards for recording consent. This means all security companies must comply with the federal laws in addition to any state specific laws. Federal law wiretapping statutes allow recording if one party consents. Practically applied to the security company, this means if the security officer is wearing the body camera and activates it, the security officer consented to the recording. Whatever the other party says or does to object is irrelevant because the security officer (one party under the federal law) consented.

The consent issue becomes more complicated when security companies comply with state specific laws. Many states have their own wiretapping laws. Thirty eight states require only one party consent, but some states require all party consent. In these states everyone must consent to recording.

Does this mean that the security officer must pause before activating a body worn security camera and ask the individual if they consent to recording? In most cases the answer is no! Consent may be implied by the fact that the individual being recorded can see the camera. Another option is having signs that state the premises are under surveillance, including the use of body cameras on security personnel. The mere fact that the individual saw or could have seen the sign and proceeded onto the property anyway is often enough to satisfy the consent required by many states statutes.

Making the Decision to Utilize Body Cameras. 

Like any security device, body cameras are one tool among many. Emerging research shows that body cameras have a criminal deterrent effect and can help officers behave more professionally. Additionally, real life video of an incident is powerful evidence in court proceedings and helps reduce civil liability.

Start up costs and potential technological barriers such as data storage and retrieval may be an initial barrier to utilizing body cameras, but as high capacity cloud storage becomes more affordable more and more security companies will likely make the decision to equip their officers with body cameras. While body cameras for officers, whether they are public police officers or private security officers, offers many positive benefits, the decision to equip officers with body cameras should be just one part of a comprehensive strategy to equip officers with technology that helps them do their jobs better.

 

 

 

George Babnick
George W. Babnick, is a 34 year law enforcement veteran with an extensive background in physical security, criminal and administrative investigations, training, school policing, supervision and management, and criminal forensics. He recently retired as a Captain in the Portland Oregon Police Bureau where he managed the Training, School Police, and Forensic Evidence Divisions. He holds criminal justice degrees from Portland Community College and Portland State University and a law degree from Northwestern California University School of Law, Sacramento California.

Mr. Babnick is a longtime member of the Western Society of Criminology and is the author of articles on security and law enforcement, investigations, supervision and management, and risk management related to these subjects.

As a physical security expert, George Babnick provides private physical security consultations across the United States and consults with clients outside the United States. He specializes in assessing security problems for small and medium businesses as well as select individuals. He offers independent, honest advice and expertise, with the goal of providing all clients with practical and cost-effective security solutions to enhance security and effectively manage business and personal security risks.

Mr. Babnick is also a licensed Private Investigator and conducts investigations for attorneys, businesses, and individuals throughout the State of Oregon.

To learn more about security consultation and investigative services offered, please visit http://babnickandassociates.com

Disclaimer: Nothing in any article on this blog should be construed as legal advice. Persons seeking legal advice should seek the counsel of an attorney licensed in their state.
  • Kevin Evner

    Very good article. I enjoyed reading it. Thanks!

    • gbabnick

      OAPPROVED

  • Matthew K

    Isn’t it possible that any footage that doesn’t work in the officer’s favour could would be deleted/lost/damaged? Unless the footage is being uploaded in real time to some sort of independent database I imagine the smart officers would just continue to have a lot of “faulty cameras”.

  • Sandra Dieckmann

    This is a very good idea! The body camera can be very useful. This can help for the work on many cases, it’s always good to have more evidence.I think the idea can bring a lot of benefits. Great post!

    • Steffi

      Yea i also think it is a good idea. Aslong as they can deployed with strong policies to make sure that they actually help with protecting the public. I mean it seems like a good thing since the primary function is more to monitor police behavior rather than the other way around.

  • FatGringoTeach

    I think this is a wonderful idea, but I foresee two issues. One is that most businesses want to pay the minimum for security personnel, and while the video technology has worlds of potential the cost factor is going to be a huge hump to get over, since it is not only the equipment, but supporting software and ongoing maintenance. The second is that a system activated solely by the guard is liable for it to be underused, especially in key moments. Better if it is activated by one of several inputs – monitoring central, supervisor, guard or alarm.

  • FatGringoTech, I agree that the cost factor is an issue but in the long run I believe body cameras will save businesses money in reduced liability costs. Unfortunately, many businesses will often only look at the immediate costs. This is shortsighted. Thanks for reading my article. I appreciate it.

  • Arabi Lowpacki

    These cameras are scary. Using technology can be good but I think most workers would conveniently “forget” to upload or corrupt the data files if it meant preserving their job. I just don’t know what value this has beyond sticking it to the “Little Guy.”

  • Lerton Heconn

    Not sure why private companies need to spend money on body cameras when every Joe Schmo has a cell phone with vid capability anyways. They already got body cameras on the Po-Po but that’s just government waste for ya. As a security professional, what do you think Mister? Should we encourage the government to spend more and tell private business to bag it and hope a cell phone amateur is there to capture it when the stuff hits the fan?

  • Personally, if I were to be contacted by police or private security I would want it to be recorded on video. Because this technology is rather new there have been very few studies of the benefits and potential downsides on the use of body cameras. One of the few studies that I have seen on the subject can be found at: http://www2.cohpa.ucf.edu/cpnm/documents/Police%20Technology%20An%20Analysis%20of%20%20In%20Car%20Cameras%20and%20Body%20Worn%20Cameras%20Lillian%20Draisin%20spring%202011.pdf
    Regardless of whether these cameras are used by police or private security, policies and procedures need to be put in place for when the camera should be used, when it should be turned on or off, and how the video captured should be achieved.

    Thanks for reading my blog and taking the time to comment. It is appreciated.

  • Since this is the future of law enforcement, then cameras such as these are going to need to be in use 24/7. Those who need them most likely will be those on foot and bike patrol.
    Although officers may have these and are good to dispell lies from civilians, civilians are going to need these, too. Such devices could be used for bullying tactics.
    All it would take would be setting up someone to get agitated or upset and cause a fight. However, I do strongly believe that school children, students period, and battered wives should have these.
    That way all bullies, horrible teachers, violent significant others/violent spouses could be handled properly in courts of law, proving whatever needs to be proved.
    But, without intentionally causing an individual to act in a negative way.

  • Rico Gonzales

    When I worked at the casino as Security we all wore body cameras. There was a central monitoring area but that is a given at a casino so that cost was already in the development of the casino. Adding the body cameras after the casino was up and running wasn’t an issue. I can tell you the cameras made a huge improvement in our work staff and we did release quite a few officers that were not performing as originally thought, so the cameras bring a lot of additional information to the position that does save the company money in the long run.

  • Maddie Mahoney

    Body cameras are a great idea! I think that not only could they prove a criminal’s actions during an altercation with an officer, but they could also prove an officer’s actions if the officer did something they should not have. With so much debate lately about who is in the wrong with the Ferguson issue, things like this would put most arguing to rest and prove who was right and who was wrong.

    • Maddie, I totally agree about the Ferguson shooting, if the officer would have been wearing the body camera there would be no question. Even if the audio was off you could still see Michael Brown charging the officer or NOT charging the officer. You would also be able to see if his hands were up or not like a few people claim. It could help the officer or hurt the officer in most cases. If an officer is too aggressive then the video will show it and if the perp is lying then it will show that as well. I believe it will keep things in line.

  • In light of investigations made public regarding officer-involved shootings, I believe they can only help protect both the police and the suspect alike.

  • Too bad there won’t be audio in most cases… I think the footage highlights of the guards investigating situations would make for some great reality TV.