According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Atlanta City Council announced Monday morning that $5.6 million dollars would be allocated over the next five years for 1,200 body worn cameras (BWCs) for Atlanta police officers. The council voted 12-1 in favor of changing the budget.
According to Police One’s article, “7 findings from first-ever study on body cameras”, the use of BWCs “shows that people tend to “adhere to social norms and change their conduct” once they’re aware that their behavior is being observed.” Body cameras have been shown to “cool down” situations that might escalate if not recorded. The use of force and citizen complaints declined when body cameras were in use. Footage can be used for training purposes and to coach officers about how they conduct themselves.
It is difficult to measure the benefits in monetary value, but “user licenses, storage space, security costs, maintenance, and system upgrades can potentially translate into billions of dollars worldwide.” Handling the secure storage of video footage could be the costliest element of the body camera program. However, “the cost of not having video footage may have direct implications on decisions to prosecute or on criminal proceedings more generally.”
In the study, which was conducted by the Journal of Quantitative Criminology, use-of-force incidents dropped 58-64% compared to previous years when body cameras were not in use. Citizen complaints dropped an impressive 88%. Important aspects of the 12-month study included that the 54 officers were randomly assigned to wear -or not wear – body cameras. The cameras had a video and audio feature. They were instructed to have them on for every encounter with a member of the public with the exception of incidents involving a minor or sexual assault.
With thousands of new cameras flooding into the city, it is time to ask some critical questions about how the cameras will be used, what discretion officers have when choosing to record or not, and how the footage will be handled once it has been recorded.
The Leadership Conference published a scorecard this month detailing how Atlanta stands up to other major cities when it comes to body camera technology.
Makes the Department Policy Publicly and Readily Available
Atlanta has not made the department’s body camera policy public and readily available. The department did release a version of its policy to journalists. The policy is part of the Atlanta Police Department Policy Manual Standard Operating Procedures and was made effective January 1, 2016. Atlanta’s body camera program was put on hold by the Fulton County Superior Court in January 2016 following a lawsuit related to the procurement and bidding process for cameras, and the department was granted a motion to dismiss the suit on June 15, 2016.
View the Policy: 2016-01-01 Atlanta – BWC Policy
Limits Officer Discretion on When to Record
Atlanta does clearly describe when officers must record and officers must provide concrete justification for failing to record events.
2. . . . The BWC shall be used during the course of regular and extra job duties, for the purpose of potential evidence in the prosecution of criminal and traffic offenses, departmental internal investigations, and any other situations which the Department shall deem necessary. . . .
. . .
4.3.2 Employees shall place the BWC in event (recording) mode upon arriving on scene of a call for service requiring recording of an incident, or when interacting with the public in a law enforcement capacity which the officer and/or his or her supervisor deems necessary to record and document.
4.3.3 Supervisors shall place the BWC in event (recording) mode upon arriving on scene of all supervisor requests initiated by a citizen or an employee regarding a call for service or incident.
4.3.4 The Atlanta Police Department recognizes that employee safety is paramount and understands that events can take place without notice. Employees shall place their BWC into event (recording) mode for the following circumstances listed to include, but not limited to:
- Vehicle or Pedestrian stops;
- Department approved vehicle safety checkpoints;
- Field Interviews;
- Vehicle or Foot Pursuits;
- Emergency Driver (either code 2 or code 3);
- When requested by a citizen during an encounter with law enforcement;
- While en route to crimes in progress where fleeing suspects or vehicles may be captured on video leaving the crime scene;
- Statements made by suspects, victims or witnesses while interviewing; and
- Execution of a search warrant.
4.3.5 Employees may activate the BWC anytime they believe its use would be appropriate and/or valuable to document an incident, or as instructed by their supervisor. The BWC shall be placed in event (recording) mode as soon as it is practically possible for employees to do so in order to capture an event.
. . .
4.3.8 Employees shall deactivate their BWC when the incident has transitioned to a controlled orderly manner, when the interaction has been completed by the employee, or as instructed by their supervisor. (CALEA 5th ed. Standard 41.3.8(b)
The policy also requires officers to justify non-activation or interruption of recordings. (§4.3.6)
4.3.6 If there is a non-activation or interruption of recording by employees arriving on scene of an incident requiring activation of the BWC, or if an employee does not place the BWC in event (recording) mode while interacting with the public in a law enforcement capacity deemed necessary by the employee and/or his or her supervisor, the employee shall begin recording the event as soon as practically possible and document the circumstances in a written report explaining the delay in activation or interruption in the recording of the incident in accordance with APD.SOP.3060 “Report Writing”.
Atlanta PD requires officers to record all calls for service and law enforcement interactions with the public, among other events. (§§2; 4.3.1-5, 4.3.8)
Addresses Personal Privacy Concerns
Atlanta mentions reasonable expectations of privacy, but then strangely notes that officers still may record in those events since “they occur in the presence of the law enforcement officer.” However, the policy does go on to prohibit recordings in dressing rooms, locker rooms and restrooms, and to avoid recording “exposed genitals or other sexually sensitive areas.” (§§4.3.1; 4.4.1)
4.3.1 Law enforcement officers may use their BWC or other camera devices during the lawful performance of their duties to observe, photograph, videotape, or record the activities that occur in places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy if they occur in the presence of the law enforcement officer. (Senate Bill 94, O.C.G.A Section 16-11-62 Unlawful Eavesdropping or Surveillance)
. . .
4.4.1 The purpose of the BWC is to be used during law enforcement interactions with the public. The BWC shall not be used for the following reasons to include, but not limited to:
- The BWC shall not be activated in areas such as but not limited to: dressing rooms, locker rooms and restrooms unless performing a legitimate law enforcement action;
- When possible, employees shall refrain from recording exposed genitals or other sexually sensitive areas, unless doing so would be unavoidable;
The policy does attempt to protect the privacy of recorded individuals by exempting recordings from The Georgia Open Records Act when reasonable expectation of privacy is met. (§4.9.1)
4.9.1 The Georgia Open Records Act shall exempt audio and video recordings used by law enforcement in places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy from disclosure under certain circumstances specified in accordance with O.C.G.A. Section 50-18-72(a)(26.2).
The policy does not specifically protect vulnerable individuals or victims, or allow subjects to opt-out of recordings by request.
Prohibits Officer Pre-Report Viewing
Atlanta requires officers to file an initial report before relevant footage is viewed.
Officers may review footage before writing their reports for all incidents, except in the cases of use of force. In use of force incidents, employees are explicitly required to complete a report prior to reviewing footage or audio, and include a statement to that effect. (§§4.3.9; 4.9.2-4)
4.3.9 Employees are permitted to access and review either video stored on their BWC or the employee’s video uploaded to the Atlanta Police Department (APD) approved storage network with the exception of all use of force incidents (see section 4.9.3).
. . .
4.9.2 Any use of force incident captured by the BWC must be uploaded by a supervisor before the end of the employee’s shift/tour of duty. Supervisors and employees shall adhere to guidelines and procedures in accordance with APD.SOP.3010 “Use of Force”.
4.9.3 Any employee involved in a “use of force” incident, shall complete an incident report of the event prior to viewing the BWC footage. Only after an employee has completed an incident report following a use of force event, shall the employee be permitted to view BWC footage if they desire to do so.
4.9.4 Upon completion of the incident report, the employee shall include the following statement:
“I have completed this report prior to reviewing any video/audio pertaining to this incident to the best of my knowledge.”
Limits Retention of Footage
The department does not, or does not indicate if they, delete unflagged footage within six months.
Atlanta PD notes that the retention period for “citizen contact” footage (which we assume to be non-evidentiary) is 45 days. However, it is not clear whether this is a minimum or maximum retention period, and the policy does not appear to require that footage be deleted. (§§4.6.5; 4.8.1)
4.6.5 When it is necessary to tag a particular piece of video footage regarding a case, employees or supervisors shall add a retention tag to the footage, add the case number for identification purposes of each video tagged, and ensure that it has been uploaded onto the APD approved storage network before the end of their shift.
. . .
4.8.1 BWC recorded data shall remain stored on a secured APD approved storage network, in accordance with Georgia Archives (State Govt. Schedule 13-002) and The Georgia Records Act O.C.G.A. 50-18-90 et seq. The retention guidelines are as follows
- Traffic Stop 45 Days
- Citation 90 Days
- Citizen Contact 45 Days
- Criminal Investigation 60 Days
- Use of force w/ no arrest 90 Days
- Arrest 5 Years
- Homicide Indefinite
Protects Footage Against Tampering and Misuse
The policy expressly prohibits both footage tampering and unauthorized access and indicates that all access to recorded footage will be logged or audited.
Atlanta PD prohibits tampering with both cameras and footage, as well as “destroying any evidentiary recording produced.” (§4.5)
4.5 Tampering with the BWC
4.5.1 The BWC and recordings are the property of the Atlanta Police Department. Use of the BWC for any purpose not associated with an employee’s duties, or as specifically prescribed in this Standard Operating Procedure, is strictly prohibited. (CALEA 5th ed. Standard 41.3.8(c)
4.5.2 Employees are strictly prohibited from disabling or destroying a BWC. This includes changing or attempting to change settings and/or permission levels within a BWC.
4.5.3 Employees shall not interfere or intentionally block the ability of the BWC to record an encounter.
4.5.4 The intentional destroying or altering of any evidentiary recording produced from the BWC by any employee shall be treated as a violation of O.C.G.A 16-10-94 tampering with evidence, O.C.G.A 16-10-94 interference with government property, APD.SOP.2010 “Truthfulness” Section 4.1.3, and subject to disciplinary and/or criminal prosecution.
Access appears to be limited to users given permission by the BWC Compliance Administrator, and employees who view footage must place a note on the file justifying their reasoning for accessing it. (§§4.9.5-6; 4.11.1)
4.9.5 Whenever an employee or supervisor reviews a recording, they shall place a note in the video detailing their reasoning for accessing the video.
4.9.6 Employee responsibilities include, but are not limited to:
- Video tagging;
- Not allowing unauthorized people to view the BWC footage;
- Not obtaining copies of video without authorization; and
- Prohibiting the release of footage without permission.
. . .
4.11.1 The BWC Compliance Administrator shall be responsible for the following:
- Maintaining an accurate listing of all BWC users;
- Management of the digital data storage management system;
- Assigning permissions and roles to users in the BWC system as directed and/or approved by the Chief of Police or his or her designee;
. . .
The policy also provides that footage and “BWC data will be audited.” While the language does not make clear whether these audits also review access or change logs, the relevant clauses, when read together with the clause requiring employees to document and justify viewing of footage, imply that access is indeed audited. (§§4.10.2; 4.10.4; 4.11.2)
4.10.2 The BWC Compliance Administrator shall be responsible for conducting audits of BWC footage, and shall ensure accountability and compliance in accordance with the guidelines and procedures in this directive.
. . .
4.10.4 The Compliance Administrator shall conduct a random audit of BWC data on a semi-annual basis and generate a report documenting the findings.
. . .
4.11.2 The Compliance Administrator shall be responsible for conducting audits of BWC footage, generate a report documenting the findings, and shall ensure accountability and compliance in accordance with the guidelines and procedures in this directive. The report shall be submitted to the Deputy Chief of Strategy and Special Projects Division (SSP) for review.
Makes Footage Available to Individuals Filing Complaints
The policy does not expressly allow individuals who are filing police misconduct complaints to view relevant footage.
Limits Biometric Searching of Footage
The policy places no limits on the use of biometric technologies (e.g., facial recognition) to identify individuals in footage.