Detroit implemented a $5.2 million initiative to outfit all police officers with body cameras last year. Of the 18,000 police departments in the United States, about one-third of them were using body cameras as of March 2015. The resulting footage from the Detroit Police Department's decision to join that third has clearly demonstrated the benefits of police body cameras.
According to Assistant Police Chief James White, the videos from body cameras have provided valuable insight into exactly what went right or wrong during incidents. While the reports of an incident had previously come down to a he-said-she-said situation, the footage is able to clearly show both sides of the story. This allows supervisors to assess situations and train officers accordingly.
All patrol officers in the department use the body cameras, which total 1,500, and they record both audio and visual. Between January and June of this year, the Office of the Chief Investigator, which fields noncriminal complaints against officers, handled 439 allegations. This arm of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners was able to prove 30% of those claims. According to data provided by the office, the footage supported 133 of the allegations, 197 of the claims were deemed unfounded, and 109 officers were exonerated.
Although the benefits of police body cameras are clear when it comes to the need to review footage for various allegations, some people have been wary over privacy concerns. The state of Michigan enacted a law last year that exempted footage recorded in private settings from open record requests. Civil rights advocates have also raised concerned about the number of times police officers turn off or mute their body cameras. Citing nationwide incidents of officer-involved shootings, these advocates bring up multiple instances when the body cameras police had were not operational, giving no evidence as to what happened during the incident.
White has countered that it is not always possible for police offers to turn on their cameras, especially in dangerous situations, and that dashboard cameras can catch footage if a body camera cannot. Police dash cameras are integrated in all of the Detroit Police Department's vehicles, according to White.
To capitalize on the benefits of police body cameras, the department also needs to develop an effective system for storing the data. White states that proper footage storage is one of their biggest obstacles currently, as they had not initially anticipated how much space was going to be needed.