Sep 17th 2014 | Posted in Public Safety, Technology, Trends by Mary Scott Nabers

With all eyes, including those of the Department of Justice, on Ferguson, Missouri, as protests continue over the shooting death by a police officer of an 18-year-old, there is intense interest in transparency as it applies to first responders – and particularly law enforcement.

The concept of wearable cameras which monitor an officer’s surroundings and activities is a hot topic. Just as interesting are the conversations and decisions being made about other wearables (i.e. Google Glass) that contribute to the efficacy of first responders. The wearable technology market is just emerging, but it appears to be gaining acceptance quickly.

The idea of wearing technology that records all activity is a concept people either love or hate. Even law enforcement officials have mixed feelings.

When situations like the one in Ferguson happen, reporting depends on witnesses to the incident. When witnesses have differences of opinion, or there are no witnesses, incident reporting can become critically problematic.

Body cameras provide actual footage of incidents, investigations are quicker and less biased. The unique ability for cameras to provide uncensored, raw footage has led to endorsements from law enforcement agencies as well as citizens’ rights advocacy groups. Still, there is controversy because the technology brings up new civil liberty concerns. Some argue that an officer’s right to privacy when on duty, but not interacting with the public, is jeopardized. And, there are times that require sensitivity such as when officers respond to domestic violence calls.

  • In Missoula, Montana, the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana and the Missoula Police agree that the use of the wearable cameras is a positive practice. The department began using wearables two years ago and the practice has allowed for swift resolution of complaints.
  • The New York Times reported on Sept. 4 (a little less than a month after the Ferguson incident) that the New York Police Department would launch a pilot program mandating that officers wear body cameras while on duty. The pilot program is not a response to Ferguson, but is instead part of a judicial ruling in response to the department’s former stop-and-frisk practice. The timing, however, coincides with the national call for law enforcement to adopt the use of wearable technologies to curb abuses of power. The department will use 60 cameras that attach to an officer’s uniform in five of the city’s highest crime precincts.
  • According to The Washington Post, the District’s police chief, Cathy Lanier, has been considering the use of body cameras for the last year and a half. The idea has been presented twice at council sessions and could be implemented as soon as next month.

Another wearable technology product comes from Google Glass. This technology is being called transformational by some. It allows users to interact with applications by voice commands and without a traditional display. The tiny screen located atop Google glasses impacts very minimally a user’s field of vision, but it can provide all types of information and photograph or record anything. Its various applications (software offerings) have the potential to provide guidance and enhance a first responder’s service when seconds separate life and death.

Issues will continue to revolve around privacy, types of wearable technology, designated wearers, data storage, cost and access to information. But, wearable technology is a trend that is maturing quickly.

Mary Scott Nabers

As President and CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc., Mary Scott Nabers has decades of experience working in the public-private sector. A well-recognized expert in the P3 and government contracting fields, she is often asked to share her industry insights with top publications and through professional speaking engagements.