There is a movement to criticize, punish, fire and even criminally charge an officer who fails to turn on his or her body worn camera at a call. The question for you as a trainer, and for your organization is, “Have they actually be trained to activate their camera?” If you say yes, then how were they trained and conditioned to activate it and under what circumstances?
Remember, there is a difference between “having attended training” and “being trained”. When you implemented body worn cameras what training did you do to condition your officers to activate the cameras? Was it a lecture in a classroom? Was it a number of static repetitions of activating the camera? Was there any scenario based training where the officer practiced activating the camera while getting out of the car at a call? Were there different scenarios for officers walking a beat or riding a mountain bike? What about motor officers or mounted patrol officers? Are officers always required to activate the camera every time they get out of their car? Or, just whenever they get out at a call? Or, just at specific types of calls?
Is the training on how and when to activate the body worn cameras part of the training at the Academy, or does it just begin with the FTO phase? Is there any ongoing scenario based training for in-service officers where they start the scenario by getting out of a vehicle, or off their bike or motor cycle and activating the camera? What about when they are at lunch or coffee and an incident occurs requiring them to intervene? What about if they are in the office doing paperwork and an incident occurs in the office or the front parking lot requiring them to intervene?
It is too easy to simply issue body worn cameras, do some familiarization training and then assume that somehow it will become a habitual response to always activate the camera at the right time. By the time an experienced officer is issued a body worn camera they have gotten out of their car hundreds, if not thousands of times without ever having to activate a camera. It will take proper training, time and intentional action on behalf of the officer before it becomes an ingrained habitual response. Until then there are going to be times when the officer is focused on the multiple elements of the call and not thinking about activating the camera and as a result will fail to activate the camera.
Calls handled without the application of force by the officer, which is most of them, are rarely the calls where body camera activation becomes an issue. The calls where people are screaming for the officer to be fired are usually tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving in nature and often result in the application of high levels of force. In these high stress events the officer is often paying attention to what is most important in the environment for their safety and not likely thinking about activating a body worn camera.
Failure to activate their body worn camera in and of itself is not proof of sinister intent or negligence on behalf of the officer. It may simply be a reminder that the men and women who perform the extremely complex and challenging job of being law enforcement professionals are human. It may also be an indication of the failure to conduct effective training by the agency.
Before you punish or discipline an officer for failing to activate his or her body worn camera take a step back as a trainer, and as an organization, and ask yourself, “What piece of this do we own?”
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