Webinar presenter Jason Oehlkers, Robert “Sully” Sullenberger, and Jim Wolfinbarger answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Beyond Body-Worn: Boulder County’s Digital Evidence Strategy. Here are just a few of their responses.
Audience Question: Do you recommend body-worn cameras be used in addition to in-car cameras? Is that duplication unnecessary?
Robert Sullenberger: For a municipal organization, I would highly recommend both. The dashcams can actually capture good stuff like driving behavior if you’re doing road sites, that type of stuff. When the body cam really comes into play is on more of a personal note when the deputy is having a one-on-one conversation or maybe out of the car video recording something that the dashcam doesn’t handle. For our office, we just don’t have a real need for dash cams. It is very common for us to have a 15, 20, 30 minute response time to a call. We chose not to. For a municipal environment, my recommendation is it’d be a good thing to supplement your body cams.
Jason Oehlkers: One of the things we do use the body-worn cameras for is during transports. We can leave the cameras on or actually just face the camera back towards an arrestee as we are driving them to the jail or someplace where we can record that interaction
Audience Question: Do officers wear body cameras into an ER and record interviewing victims of sexual violence? I’m from Georgia and we’ve seen a pattern of this happening lately many times without the victim’s permission. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Robert Sullenberger: Our policy is that we want our deputies to record basically everything. When we’re interviewing victims, we want to make sure that the victims know that we are recording. We also give the victims to permission to turn off the cameras if they feel uncomfortable about it. With the caveat that if we come to interview the victim and something goes south, the deputy will turn it on. In Colorado, we’re fortunate we just have a single permission state. One person of the conversation can give permission and the whole thing can be recorded. There are other states such as California, Washington, the western seaboard where it takes dual-permissions before those recordings can happen.
Audience Question: Knowing that funding is such an issue for so many agencies, can you share how did you fund this program? Did you go through a grant process? Any advice for folks?
Robert Sullenberger: Basically on the last five years in watching the culture of law enforcement especially watching the potential trust degrade with the community and the law enforcement, we basically just approached our commissioners and said this is the future. The public is going to require, demand that law enforcement have body cameras. We were able to secure funding directly from our county commissioners. We were fortunate on that part.
Audience Question: Do any of your officers use their personal mobile phones to take video and photos of crime scenes? Can you talk about the challenges and considerations that went in to involve in your decision?
Robert Sullenberger: We issue smartphones to each one of our deputies. The expectation was while you’re on the job, you take all still footage as if you were going to do any movies with your department phone. If a deputy chooses to use their personal phone to record that they have now opened themselves up for potential seizure. The defense can come in and say that’s your personal phone. There’s evidence on your personal phone. They can seize your personal phone. Whatever is in that personal phone is now can be a potential for discovery. The vast majority, no I’m going to say all of our deputies area using their department issues phones. They may carry their personal phones but they are very good at keeping the two separate because of that.
Jim Wolfinbarger: We see a lot of different things as we are dealing with agencies across the country where there are some BYOD. policies that are in place. With the capture app, one of the things that make it better in a sense that using this app, a deputy, police officer who would take photographs say a crime scene using that if they have a BYOD it places that photo in a temporary cache. As it uploads back into command central vault, once it is verified and in place, it will remove that photograph from that particular device. I think technology will continue to provide some ways in which agencies that aren’t able to afford to issue devices, we have to continue to find ways to be able to provide protection as much as reasonably foreseeable for officers to protect their personal information on their own phones as well.
Audience Question: Jim, you said BYOD. Bring your own device, correct?
Jim Wolfinbarger: Yes.
Audience Question: What software do you use for redactions?
Jason Oehlkers: Motorola actually provided the software to us. That was something I was going to chime in. I guess I didn’t get the opportunity. The redaction software was also a really important decision for us as well when we decided to go with Motorola. When we are doing our research, the redaction software from the three different vendors we chose was still, it was still pretty new, to be honest with you. It still had some bugs. Motorola ended up partnering, I believe it was with Adobe. We liked that. Adobe is a big company. They’re going to be around. They are constantly working to improve their product. I can tell you that during our RFP process we had a death at a jail that involves some manual redaction. Because it was at the jail there are 30 different inmates in the module and their face or their bodies had to be redacted out of this video. Our technicians said they’d go in and I think it was frame by frame and blackout faces or body parts because we cannot release that information. Redaction software that came with cameras, that’s huge for us. Great time saver.
Jim Wolfinbarger: I think one of the things, almost irrespective as folks and listeners are considering different solutions is to find one that is integrated into the software that doesn’t require extraction of that video out into a separate redaction tool and then import it back in. That’s functional but it does create additional steps in the chain of custody. Looking to find that unified approach that maintains that chain of custody is a part of a comprehensive solution really brings a higher degree of value for maintaining that chain of custody and maintaining the integrity of the evidence.
Audience Question: When it comes to discovery from the District Attorney’s Office, are they doing this through authenticated sharing from the vault? Or once they have the data, do they download it themselves and the discovery process is untracked by the PD?
Robert Sullenberger: We have given our District Attorney’s Office permission to get into the vault. As Jason mentioned earlier, a video will be tagged that the DA has authority to view this video and it is attached to a particular case. The DA’s investigator can actually go in and look at all the video, they can identify what it is that they wish to pull for court presentation. Also from that, they can also send an expirable link to the defense as part of the discovery. Now the defense can go into the vault and they can only see and download that particular video as a part of discovery. It’s all seamless from that end.
Audience Question: How are the files streamed to the DA’s offices? Through this link, you’re saying basically?
Robert Sullenberger: For the DA’s office, it’s all in the vault. We store our video in the vault and the DA’s office have access to the vault. There’s no link there.
Audience Question: Did the DA’s office also have to purchase anything like compatible equipment, anything along those lines?
Robert Sullenberger: No, it’s all part of the package. This is a zero cost for the district attorney’s office. I did try to ask them for a hundred thousand dollars but they kind of laughed at me.
Audience Question: How much time do you find your deputies are spending classifying, tagging, and renaming video? What’s your policy on that?
Robert Sullenberger: Our policy is after a particular incident, that’s the beauty behind the SI500, is that there is there a screen on the actual camera that they can go and they can review the video and they can immediately tag it at that point. They get done at a particular incident, they tag it. They’re off to the next incident. Other vendors require them at the end of the shift to come in, they have to review all of the body cameras on a desktop computer and tag each one of them. We’re actually finding that for the officer time, pretty negligible.
Jason Oehlkers: In our tagging, we have a setup. It is as simple as entering the case number or a summons number into a field and also the type of incidents. It’s literally a couple of fields and a couple of keystrokes. It is a simple process.
Audience Question: How long does the charge last before the battery has to be recharged?
Jason Oehlkers: One of the things that we looked at when we did all of our testing was the charge and how long they were going to last. We found that I’ll be honest, I don’t know what Motorola’s charge is supposed to last but some of the competitors, they were supposed to last 10 or 12 hours. We really found that the batteries weren’t lasting that long. There was no way to replace or recharge the battery other than just taking the camera off the deputy and hooking it up to a charger. One of the things that we liked about Motorola is the removable batteries so we kind of just do a hot swap, if you will, in the field. A benefit it does is our deputies work twelve-hour shifts. Depending on the calls, before their shift starts or into the watch, it wouldn’t be uncommon for a deputy to work a fourteen hour or fifteen hours shift after they have been called for service. Motorola offers rechargeable batteries. Our deputies are finding that they last different lengths of time. Some of them will last for five hours. We have other ones saying that it lasts for six or seven hours. To help combat that problem, what we did is we purchased car chargers and extra batteries, so if the deputy is out on the street, they got their car and the battery charging. They can just swap them as needed.
Audience Question: Regarding the public records and open records request, do you have a state statute that guides what must be produced, retention periods, that kind of stuff?
Robert Sullenberger: Our state statute basically is the other way. We are not allowed to share. I think there are about seven or 8 different things. Sexual assault victims, children under the age of 16, those types of things. Outside of that, we can share the information.
Jason Oehlkers: We do have some retention periods on criminal cases as well probably like many other people too. Some of the videos we have to keep forever. For the other ones, we may be able to destroy it a certain period after a case is dismissed.
Audience Question: Is there an audio redaction that is part of your setup?
Jim Wolfinbarger: There is an audio redaction
Audience Question: Does the DA’s office, receive the unredacted copy or the redacted copy from your office?
Robert Sullenberger:Unredacted copy. If the DA’s office, they’re going to share the unredacted copy with the defense as part of the discovery. If the defense chooses to share an unredacted copy outside from their point forward, all civil litigation and civil liability fall on that defense attorney.
Audience Question: Is there a specific naming convention that you use in your tagging and naming of things? For example, officer badge number/ police report, etc.
Jason Oehlkers: The cameras for the operations division, they are assigned to a deputy, meaning that that deputy is assigned that camera really I guess at this point throughout the duration of their employment. The video that that camera capture is automatically assigned to officers. In the jail division, basically, what we did there was every time they record a video, they will include the incident report number and the badge number associated with it. When we go back and look, we can say this incident is assigned to or this is footage from the deputy Johnson.
Audience Question: For Boulder County, what things do you think made the difference in successfully implementing your program? If you could go back and change any one thing or add any one thing to your implementation process, what would it be? Kind of like your advice to other agencies thinking about doing this.
Robert Sullenberger: I think the big key to it is to take your time. We spend a good solid year in investigating all this, doing our due diligence, we contacted dozens and dozens of agencies that have already implemented body cams, identified lessons learned from them, do your due diligence and take your time when you’re rolling these things out.
Jason Oehlkers: I don’t know that I’ve changed a lot. We spend a lot of time talking to other agencies both locally and around the country. Users of Motorola and also competitors’ cameras to figure out what they like and what they didn’t like. A thorough testing and vetting process for the cameras help us a lot. To be honest, there’s no perfect system that’s out there. What we did is we chose the best system that’s going to work for our agency. I’ll be honest I think it’s worked well for us.
Jim Wolfinbarger: The point is and it’s true, I think the early iterations of any solutions, there’s a lot of emphases and focus on the camera. Just that device. Really it turns out the most important component of all of this is really the back-end. It’s that ability to correlate, organize, extract, upload, redact, share, secure, and purge as necessary. That’s where the real magic of it is. I’ll agree. Advise again for anybody. From Motorola’s perspective, we’d love for you to look at Motorola. Regardless of where you end up going, take a look at your vendor’s ability to be able to create this agile environment where they are continual updates that provide for unforeseen today needs that we can make present tomorrow in a way to scale in that agile software environment that really provides quicker answers and more resilience in the product. That’s a really important piece on that backend.
Jason Oehlkers: I would agree with what Jim just said. Motorola has got enough sending reputation. I think anybody can probably make a camera with pieces and parts from RadioShack but it’s the whole back end of it that’s important.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Beyond Body-Worn: Boulder County’s Digital Evidence Strategy.