It’s almost 2020, and cameras are everywhere. Small powerful video and audio recording devices are found on phones, doorbells, strapped to the helmets of skiers and bikers, and increasingly pinned to the chest of uniformed police officers. The vast majority of police-citizen encounters are now recorded, and what is shown in such “body worn camera” (BWC) footage (or the lack thereof) has become a major aspect of every criminal case.
BWCs are primarily provided to uniformed officers, who are trained on their use and operation and are responsible for following the police department’s guidelines for their use and preserving any footage that is recorded. Officers in the Boulder Police Department who have been equipped with a BWC are required to turn on their camera when they contact a citizen while investigating any in-progress crime, suspicious incident, situation that is adversarial and may involve the use of force, and generally any other situation where it is appropriate to record and the footage documenting the incident may be of value.
Officers are required to continue recording until the situation ends and may narrate to provide an explanation for future viewers as to what is being recorded. BWC’s record audio and video, but officers may use the “mute” button, while leaving the video recording on for private conversations with other officers that are not a part of the investigation or involve tactics or strategy. Officers must document in their report that an event was recorded on a BWC, and if an officer fails to completely record an entire event that should have been recorded for any reason, they must document their reason in a report.
In order to preserve privacy, officers are prohibited from recording interviews with sexual assault victims, interviews that occur in places with a reasonable expectation of privacy (such as a restroom or locker room), and private police matters, including discussions of tactics, strategy, personal activities and conversations with undercover officers and confidential sources.
BWC footage is treated as evidence which must be provided to the accused in a criminal case and may be provided to the public under certain circumstances.
While in the past attorneys had only to review police reports to be prepared, at Jurdem LLC we routinely seek out and review all BWC footage associated with a case, have transcripts made, and study them to aid in the cross-examination of witnesses. Witnesses at trial, including law enforcement officers, can be confronted with a video and audio clip of their prior statements and actions when they change their story.
If you are contacted by a uniformed member of the Boulder Police Department, look for the small camera with a red blinking light on their chest. If you feel the incident should be recorded, do not hesitate to ask the officer to turn the camera on. Remember that you are being recorded and anything you do or say can be used against you. Don’t forget to smile!