Body cameras are slowly becoming an essential tool in the law enforcement industry. In an earlier post, we outlined why police departments should implement a body camera program, but how do you decide which ones to purchase? Today we share some questions you should consider when you’re looking to purchase body cameras.
Before You Purchase Body Cameras
1) What policies are you setting for your department’s body camera program?
Before you even decide to purchase body cameras, the first thing you’ll want to do is identify the policies you’ll set in place for your agency. These policies should detail everything from when the cameras should be activated to how the data should be handled. Without any set direction for how body cameras and their footage will be used, issues are bound to arise from both staff and the community. In order for the investment to be valuable, you’ll need to devise policies that will be acceptable to both the department and its community.
If you doubt the importance of these policies or are unsure what they should be, here are a couple of sources to start:
- The Police Executive Research Forum report on implementing a body camera program
- The NACDL’s recommended body camera policies
2) Where are you wearing them?
There are so many varieties of body cameras that you can find ones that can be worn anywhere from your sunglasses to a pouch in front of your chest. When it’s time to purchase body cameras, you’ll want to consider the best place to wear them. However, it’s important to consider the drawbacks of certain placements.
For example, the cameras that attach to your sunglasses are easy to forget and you risk losing important footage when an officer removes or slides the glasses to the top of their head. On the other hand, body cameras that mount directly in front of an officer’s chest have parts of their vision blocked when the officer raises their weapon.
We have found that the most effective placement is near but below an officer’s shoulder, which prevents both of the problems described in the two examples above. Ultimately, however, placement depends on the body camera model you choose, so be sure to consider it carefully.
3) What features do you want them to have?
Body cameras differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, so the features you like from one might not exist in another. For example, one camera might have GPS capabilities that allow you to view the coordinates of recorded footage, but another might not. At a minimum, the features you want should be reflective of your established policies, but additional features that will improve your department’s efficiency should also be considered.
4) How long is the battery life?
Body cameras aren’t useful if they aren’t actively deployed, so why waste money on cameras with a short battery life? You’ll want to find a model that operates most or all of a shift or else you’ll risk missing valuable footage. Some brands offer additional battery packs, so ask about this option as well if you find one that otherwise meets all of your needs and expectations.
5) How good is the audio/video quality?
This is probably one of the most obvious factors to consider, but it still deserves a place on this list. Be sure to examine the footage quality, especially if the camera has a playback feature. Even if you plan to primarily review footage from the camera company’s software, you’ll want to know that the playback quality is good if you ever need it in the field.
6) What can you do in the software?
Once you have recorded footage, you may want to use the company’s supporting software to do certain things. For example, you might want to add metadata to a camera or file, such as the engaged officer’s name or location. You might also want software that audits all activity within each body camera, so there’s no dispute about what actions occurred and by whom within the camera’s software. Before you purchase body cameras, ask manufacturers what their software is capable of.
Ready to Purchase Body Cameras
Purchasing body cameras is like purchasing any other product: you have to do your research. There are so many different brands and models to consider that it can be difficult to determine the one you need without knowing what to ask. Now that you’re equipped with some questions, we encourage you to begin your search.
In the comments below, tell us what other questions you think are important to ask when looking to purchase body cameras. As always, be sure to subscribe in the orange box (down below on mobile) to be notified about future posts!