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An officer’s perspective on body-worn cameras

NZ Security Magazine, February 2018

Dannefaerd: "it is far better to modify someone’s behaviour... as opposed to simply recording the action."Dannefaerd: "it is far better to modify someone’s behaviour... as opposed to simply recording the action."

 

Brad Dannefaerd, Managing Director of CERT Systems Limited, draws from his experience as an New Zealand Fisheries Officer – and an early adopter of body-worn cameras – to explain what sold him on the technology.

 

My belief in the value of body-worn video cameras began in the early 1990s when I was a Fishery Officer with NZ Fisheries stationed in Northland. At that time I was fortunate to also have had the opportunity to work with a number of natural resource agencies (both State and Federal) in the United States.

Even back then the use of in-vehicle video recording systems by US law enforcement agencies was reasonably common, and upon my return to New Zealand I began experimenting with video recording during my patrols.

My early efforts were very amateurish: a handheld handy-cam (which, back then, were anything but ‘handy’ in terms of their size and weight!) duct taped to the dashboard of the patrol 4x4 utility vehicle, with which I would record vehicle stops and inspections on Dargaville and Ninety Mile beaches. Despite the amateurish nature of the set-up, it still provided some very good – and at times amusing – footage of our patrols and inspections.

The limitations of this set-up quickly became evident:

  • The fixed nature of the camera on the dashboard of the patrol vehicle provided only a general overview of the situation.
  • If we moved out of the frame of view – such as to the side of the vehicle – there was no record of what happened.
  • There was no audio of what was being said between officers and members of the public.
  • If the vehicle was towing a boat and you moved around to the passenger’s side of the vehicle, the boat would block the view of the camera.

As a result, and for a number of years, my use of video recording as an enforcement tool was fairly limited.

Later, I began seeing articles in law enforcement magazines about body-worn video cameras being used by law enforcement officers to record their interactions with the public. I immediately saw that a body-worn camera would resolve the issues that had limited the effectiveness of my earlier experiments using a dash mounted camera.

 

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Being a bit of a ‘gear guy’ (the officer with the most ‘stuff’ on their duty belt), I decided to get a few examples of these new-fangled cameras and try them out operationally. I initially bought three different cameras into New Zealand and began using them on patrol.

One of cameras was an early Reveal model – the original RS2 – which was the only camera that featured a forward-facing screen that enabled the public to see themselves being recorded.

As I began using the cameras a couple of things soon became apparent:

Firstly, the use of body-worn cameras provided significant benefits in terms of evidence capture, particularly around what was said in the early moments of an inspection or apprehension. 

It’s amazing the number of times people inadvertently made admissions during an apprehension but then later denied having said what they did. The body-worn camera captured these admissions and made it virtually impossible for people to subsequently deny having made them.

Secondly, although all of the cameras could capture people’s behaviour, the Reveal camera with its forward-facing screen actually had the effect of modifying the subject’s behaviour. 

Often the person would start to ‘fire up’, waving their arms around etc. and then they would catch sight of themselves on the screen. You’d see the “that doesn’t look very good” expression on their face as they realised how they were behaving and how it looked - and would look in court! 

I absolutely believe that it is far better to modify someone’s behaviour early on to stop them from ‘having a go’ at you, as opposed to simply recording the action.

As a result of my ‘road-testing’, I began using the Reveal camera exclusively and very quickly reached the point where I wore it every time I was on patrol.

I was surprised how accepting members of the public were to me wearing the camera. I had wondered if the presence of the camera might upset some people, but I found the complete opposite to be the case.

The camera had a calming effect on people. Given I was often working alone in remote locations and dealing with people who had immediate access to potentially deadly weapons, such as knives, gaffs, and spear guns, I figured this was a really good thing!

A few people would initially be a bit defensive when they saw I was wearing a camera, wanting to know why I was recording them. To which I would say something along the lines of: “Yes, this inspection is being recorded and it’s being recorded as much for your benefit as mine. This will ensure I act legally and treat you fairly, reasonably and professionally and don’t do anything I shouldn’t. This is to protect you as much as anything”.

That would almost always take the wind out of their sails. It’s hard to argue against something that benefits you.

The other noticeable benefit I gained from wearing the camera is that it made me a better, more professional officer due to the fact everything I was saying and doing was also being recorded. Wearing the camera made me think carefully about what I was saying and doing, and that in turn improved the overall situation – and often the outcome.

 

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