Police launching Body Cams

Monday will be the first day of a test period for officers wearing a/v recording devices. Here are the details on the launch and policies about when and how officers will use them.

Above: Soon the SPD will be donning new gear. (contributed images)

The Southborough Police Department’s Body Worn Cameras (BWCs) are in and staff has been trained. Now officers are scheduled to begin donning the devices this Monday, April 3rd. For the first 30 days, the program will be in a test period to allow the department to work through any glitches.

For some members of the public, this is likely welcome news. But since some readers might also be concerned about privacy issues and rights, I’m sharing the SPD’s official policy on how cameras and footage will be used.

According to Chief Ryan Newell, day shift officers will be the first to utilize the BWCs. During the test period, the department will work on any issues or problems that come up and solicit feedback and suggestions from the officers:

This will give our officers some time and flexibility to get used to this new piece of equipment.

You can read the full BWC policy here. Below are details that I thought some readers may be interested in.

As I previously reported, the SPD received the body cams and money for training through a state grant announced in December. Last week, the chief followed through on a promise that he would share the use policy for readers when it was ready. This week, he provided answers to questions I had. 

The following sections include important detail about when the cameras will be automatically employed, when they shouldn’t be, and when consent is/isn’t required:

An officer equipped with a BWC shall activate its recording functions as soon as practicable under the following circumstances:
1. Arrests;
2. Calls for Service;
3. Criminal complaints;
4. Physical or verbal confrontations;
5. Motor Vehicle Stops;
6. Searches;
7. Prisoner Transports;
8. When ordered to by a supervisor.
9. Mass Demonstrations and crowd control
10. Exception: Officers are not required to record normal casual conversations/encounters with citizens that do not correspond with the above-noted circumstances.

Recordings won’t be made during investigative briefings, meetings, training, personal discussions, etc. There are also times that the public might assume cameras would be used that they may not be. That includes for safety or privacy concerns:

Officers will not compromise their safety or the safety of others to obtain BWC recordings when activation is not tactically feasible.

Before entering a private residence without exigent circumstances, the officer shall seek the occupant’s consent to continue recording inside the residence. If the civilian declines to give consent, and in the absence of exigent circumstances, officer shall turn off the BWC while in the residence.

When recording in areas where there may be a reasonable expectation of privacy, officers should be mindful of their location as BWC recording may be considered insensitive, inappropriate, or prohibited by privacy considerations. Such locations may include residences, locker rooms, places of worship, religious ceremonies, certain locations in hospitals or clinics, law offices, or daycare facilities. Based on the circumstances encountered at such locations, the BWC may be turned off.

The policy also includes:

If the victim is in anyway unsure of the need for the recording to be made or is uncomfortable with being recorded, the officer shall inform the civilian that they can request to have the BWC deactivated.

As long as officers comply with sections C&D above, notice of recording isn’t required (though it may be given as a courtesy) and neither is consent. As long as the recording falls within the policy, officers are not required to stop recording if they are asked to. (They may consider doing so related to section D above, but the request and response should be recorded.)

If officers deactivate the BWC, they should first record stating the reason for doing that:

Generally, once a BWC is activated, recording will continue until or unless the event has concluded or the officer is ordered to deactivate the BWC by a supervisor.

As for not using the camera when required to under the policy:

If an officer fails to activate the BWC, fails to record the entirety of an interaction, interrupts the recording or the BWC malfunctions or is damaged, the BWC officer shall document the circumstances in an incident report.

In terms of the SPD’s use of the footage, Officers may use the recording to aid writing up incident reports. However, if officers use force (levels 3-5)*, the initial report must be written before consulting it. Any changes based on the recording must be noted in the revised draft. In those cases, a supervisor must also review the footage. 

Across the country, some privacy advocates have voiced concerns about police use of facial recognition technology. The SPD policy simply refers to compliance with state laws for employing that use.

As for public access, under the policy, “Officers shall not allow citizens to review recordings.” Only the chief or designee can make videos public, and that would be based on their records management policy. (Upon request, the chief provided the current records management policy – here. He noted that the department is conducting policy reviews, so this may get updated.)

The length of time footage will be retained is based on the seriousness of the interaction. (The default range outlined is 180 days to indefinitely. Records requirements for court cases or court orders to erase footage could cause exceptions to the timeline.)

Use of Force Model followed by Southborough Police Dept*Upon request, Chief Newell provided detail on what the force levels 3-5 refer to. The graphic right demonstrates that lowest level force (level 3) that triggers related requirements for supervisor review and restricted use of video for writing reports is an officer using “Compliance Techniques” for someone who is deemed actively resistant and a “volatile” threat. Examples Chief Newell provided of active resistance are pulling, turning, or walking away from an officer. 

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