Town Sued After Police Dept's Body Cams Turn Out To Be Body Part Cams

The camera's always rolling in Round Lake Park:

Police officers in north suburban Round Lake Park have sued the village over their claims that body cameras invaded their privacy by secretly recording them in the bathroom and in other private moments.

The department started using the body cameras last September, and officers were instructed to activate them during traffic stops and other enforcement actions.

But the officers said in the suit that, unbeknownst to them, the cameras were actually shooting video "nonstop," in violation of the department's policy not to record private body parts or nonenforcement activities.

The suit claims that the cameras recorded thousands of "highly offensive and voyeuristic intrusions," including video that exposed officers' genitals and showed them engaging in "private and personal acts," including using the bathroom and changing their clothes.


The cameras are always recording unless that feature is disabled by the administrator, [the manufacturer] WatchGuard said.

That seems atypical and not appropriate for a police body cam.

The vendor that provided the cameras is Enforcement Video, LLC, of Allen, Texas, doing business as WatchGuard Video. It claims to be the world's largest manufacturer of in-car police video systems and that more than 1,000 departments use its VISTA body camera.

Apparently they are one of the top body cam mfrs.

They even have a offical name for this feature: RATF= Record-After-The-Fact

scribo ex post facto

Background recorded video is continuously looped to the hard drive
Background video is typically available for the previous 2-3 shifts – determined by the size of hard drive selected in your system build

The batteries must be incredible.

Where are these body cameras being worn that they capture the wearers 'private parts'? On their belts?

IMO, law enforcement body cameras should always be recording while the officer is on duty in uniform - with maybe a 'suspend recording' option when they need to tinkle (that can be audited).

Body cameras are not worn to help the officer on the scene. They are worn to help those that were not on the scene to understand what actually happened when conflicting versions arise.

Perp: "That officer punched me in the face and threw me to the ground!"

Cop: "The perp was resisting arrest, not complying with my lawful orders, and he advanced towards me and threw a punch at me first."

Without video of the event, the brutality charge is applied and has to be defended. Regardless of the final outcome, the lawyers always win (in compensation).

If you recall, NYC was mandated by a federal judge to start using body cameras after the whole 'stop and frisk' policy was found to be unconstitutional. So body cameras fulfill two very important roles - they defend against frivolous claims against officers, and they are also a move in the direction of restoring trust of law enforcement by the masses.

If the officers can turn the camera on and off at their leisure, this ability detracts from both of those roles.

Yes and no.

The general standard I have seen implemented in the departments I've talked with is that IF an incident occurs and the camera is off, then 100% of the onus falls onto the officer to prove his or her side of the story.

I would be wholeheartedly against cameras that record 100% of the time for a multitude of reasons, and in fact I would actually rule out any that had this feature by default.

I would be wholeheartedly against cameras that record 100% of the time for a multitude of reasons...

Not that I necessarily disagree, but would like to know the multitude. :)

"IF an incident occurs and the camera is off, then 100% of the onus falls onto the officer to prove his or her side of the story."

How does that make any sense?

Without any video recording (body worn or stationary cameras in the vicinity) it is always the officers word vs the perps.... happens all the time.

The 'onus' that falls on the officer is at best 50% - and a lot of people would say that this 'onus' that you speak of generally falls much more heavily on the perp to 'prove' that the officer is lying - when no video is available.

For the record, I would also like to hear the 'multitude' of reasons why officers shouldn't wear body cameras that record all the time while they are on duty.

Yes, traditionally in an "Officer's word against the suspect's", the court gives more credibility to the officer's word, however if a body camera is worn but did not record the incident, it could understandably *shift* the onus to the officer. If there is no good reason for not having the video besides "i forgot to turn it on", the the onus should shift to the officer to prove the accuser is lying.

Some reasons to not record everything:

  • Privacy of the public when not directly interacting with officers (e.g. you are attending a protest, or the officer enters the locker room you are in)
  • Privacy of the officers when not interacting with the public and interacting with peers. Nobody should feel like every word and gesture is being watched and reviewed.
  • Interactions with witnesses, informants, and other people where the person is less likely to provide useful information if being recorded.

Interactions with witnesses, informants, and other people where the person is less likely to provide useful information if being recorded.

This is the bigger injustice. Remember there is a functional record button, it's purpose in this camera though is just to mark the clip so it won't be rolled over automatically. A cop who looks like he is shutting off the recording to put a witness at ease, but still secretly recording is a violation of public trust.

Although I recognize the officer's lawsuit as valid, I don't really believe any of them were traumatized by the unlikely prospect of another cop seeing their genitals.

More likely to traumatize the viewer.

I agree with you that if the camera is worn but isn't on during an incident that the onus should shift at least somewhat towards the officer - I just don't believe this is what actually happens.

When it comes down to the nuts, I think most would still most often side with the 'most likely' thing to have happened - that the cop just forgot to turn the body cam on. It is an improbable leap, imo, to say that the cop turned it off or failed to turn it on on purpose without any supporting evidence for this position.

Your reasons you list for not having cameras recording while an officer is on duty are mostly valid - though some could easily be regulated by procedure.

For your first bullet point, my example of a 'suspend recording' option (that can be audited) solves it.

For your second bullet point, there are many occupations whose every movement (and sometimes words) are recorded the entire time they are on the job - bank tellers, fast food workers, tech support people, etc.... there are many others - and maybe they all don't wear body cameras, but the levels of workplace surveillance can be even greater using the tools that are already in use. Plus - and this is important to my thesis: these positions aren't entirely reliant on the public trust to be effective - like law enforcement is.

"Nobody should feel like every word and gesture is being watched and reviewed."

I would maintain that nothing is being 'watched and reviewed' unless conflicting accounts of what went down occur. Is being recorded unsettling? Absolutely. But it certainly is not unique to the law enforcement occupation.

Bullet point 3 I agree with you on informants, but if I'm a cop I want the witnesses statement to be recorded on site. I can see where some might be reluctant to say certain things if they know they are being recorded - as you allude to.

My position regarding recording everything while on duty clearly should have some built-in exceptions - like some of the ones you mention. But to rebuild trust in law enforcement (which I believe at least a part of this initiative is attempting to address) the general public must believe in the transparency of the process.

For your second bullet point, there are many occupations whose every movement (and sometimes words) are recorded the entire time they are on the job - bank tellers, fast food workers, tech support people, etc..

Yes, as a matter of fact, here at the Exacq office our demo cameras (over 200) are pointed all over the place. ...Not a good office to steal someone's lunch or make a gesture at your boss behind his back.

I think there is a difference between working in view of traditional surveillance video and wearing a body camera that always records.

The body camera is designed to capture everything said, and definitely captures everything you do and see. Although the majority of the footage likely won't be watched in normal circumstances, the officer would know that anything he says or does could be put under the microscope. ...A joke about the captain to a co-worker, taking a call from your wife while at lunch, singing along to Taylor Swift while on patrol (unless you are that one cop who posts his performances to Youtube).

Overall I think we are 90% in agreement. I support body cams and I think they should be recording all interactions with the public. You advocate the officer having a pause button and I trend more toward them having a record button, but if the only choice was no body cameras or always recording, I'd definitely want them wearing cameras.

I agree with you - workplace surveillance is somewhat different than wearing a body camera that is always recording.

Looking back at the string, I agree again - we appear to be differing primarily in application rather than any fundamental principle.

So if we contrast the two options - always recording with pause option vs only recording when turned on by the officer - which do you think will functionally work the best if recording all incidents with the general public is the goal? :)

"Always recording" will better accomplish the primary goal as stated: capturing interactions with the public. But at some cost to intangibles like officer morale.

Mind you, I have no experience in law enforcement, but in my uneducated opinion, I would advocate for polices that give officers discretion, with the understanding that there is a higher burden of evidence if there is an incident and no video was recorded and that discretion can be taken away on an officer-by-officer basis.

A brutality complaint that ultimately was not actionable but raises questions? That officer has to keep his camera recording at all times or face termination, and should have an expectation that some or all of his footage is being reviewed against department best practices.

Chicago cop who shot and killed alleged fleeing car thief failed to record the incident on his new body worn camera

I kinda like the always recording feature.

Maybe a compromise between safety and privacy could be where the device is always recording everything until the shift is over. When the camera is turned back in only the officer recorded video is uploaded and everything else erased, unless of course a gun was fired etc. And even then the officer's rights to privacy would be respected by the video having to go thru due process for discovery, that is if the officer objected.

Sure, there will still be times when you realize later that the video was needed, but for these type cases it would be helpful.

"I agree with you that if the camera is worn but isn't on during an incident that the onus should shift at least somewhat towards the officer - I just don't believe this is what actually happens.

When it comes down to the nuts, I think most would still most often side with the 'most likely' thing to have happened - that the cop just forgot to turn the body cam on. It is an improbable leap, imo, to say that the cop turned it off or failed to turn it on on purpose without any supporting evidence for this position."

WHEN COPS WHO KILL LEAVE THEIR BODY CAMERAS TURNED OFF

North Carolina seeks to establish that body camera recordings are not public records. #FAIL

Police recordings law serves neither the police or the public

*I would've used 'nor' if I wrote this headline... just sayin'.