Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier said the department and has taken many steps — both technological and policy-wise — to ensure that the body-cam program would run smoothly once it was officially instituted. (Photos: Mary Ellen Dawley)
WASHINGTON — Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier has held her current position since 2007. And since then she has attempted to be at the forefront of technological advancements to help improve the department’s operations. The last few years she and the department have been focusing on the deployment of a body-worn camera program, one of the first for a major U.S. city.
“I’ve implemented more technology solutions in MPD in the last nine years, and all of those projects combined don’t add up to the complicated logistics of implementing a body-worn camera program,” said Chief Lanier, who gave a keynote address entitled “Police Body Cameras and the Urban Patrol” on Thursday, Dec. 3 at the 2015 Government Video Expo.
The MPD began developing policy to implement body cameras to the department around 2013 and has taken many steps — both technological and policy-wise — to ensure that the program would run smoothly once it was officially instituted. The department hired a privacy lawyer; they built custom storage facilities; and talked with community groups about the use of cameras.
Lanier has also emphasized training of new recruits in the academy so that they can become as familiar with the equipment as possible. “I want that body-worn camera to be just as familiar to them as their police radio, their OC and their firearm, so that’s there no question that they are going to forget to turn it on.” For veterans, this has proven more difficult, but the department is helping them by running audits at the end of each shift to double check that officers are utilizing the body-worn cameras on all calls, as is the policy in D.C.
“A slow, deliberate rollout, where you have created good policy and good muscle memory of your officers is the only way you are going to get transparency out of these cameras,” she said. “Otherwise you are just going to get suspicion.”
Officers are certainly becoming more accustomed to using the cameras appropriately, but Lanier knows that they must continually stress its importance. “It’s getting smaller and smaller, but it’s got to be zero. It’s got to be zero. Because Murphy’s Law is the one bad incident that we got to have that video on, that’s going to be the guy that forgets. And how are we going to explain that. It’s got to be a deliberate process.”
Chief Lanier takes a look at drones on the GV Expo Show exhibit floor.
The department ran an initial equipment test back in October 2014 where they deployed 126 cameras to patrol officers and supervisors. Once the appropriate equipment was determined, the MPD officially began using body-worn cameras on the job on June 29, 2015. A total of 2,800 cameras are deployed throughout the department. The program cost $5 million to implement, and will cost around $2.6 million per year, or about $80 per officer.
“[It’s a] big expense; is it worth it?” Lanier asked. “I will tell you already I think it is worth it… It’s already paid off.”
Among the chief benefits of the cameras thus far has been in the freeing of time for officers to be on the street. “Think about the administrative workload for every citizen complaint that comes in,” Lanier explained. “A sergeant, a first-line supervisor, has to gather statements, conduct an administrative investigation. And what happens is they’re spending all their time doing administrative work and now I don’t have first-line supervisors on the street and then I get more complaints because there’s nobody supervising on street… So body-worn cameras just as an administrative tool was worth the investment, because I could put hundreds of supervising man hours back on the street just because we wouldn’t be investigating complaints.”
It’s also reduced the number of complaints in general, as the department can sit down with complainants and review the video to see if there was any misconduct. According to Chief Lanier, six out of 10 complaints are often unfounded.
Currently, the program is used primarily for uniformed officers patrolling the streets, but Lanier expressed interest in expanding it to other parts of the department, like SWAT, narcotics and undercover units. “Some of the specialized units we also want to make sure we have those body-worn cameras on because they can also find themselves in those higher-risk situations that may result in the use of force, or deadly force; higher numbers of complaints because you’re dealing with search warrants and arrest warrants.”
“Our goal is put as much video as we possibly can put out,” Lanier continued. “We want the public to see what we do and we want people to see that we believe in our cops and we believe our cops are fair and they are doing their jobs well.”