Body cameras are invaluable for protecting both police officers and citizens during non-routine encounters by providing a complete and unbiased recording of the situation. Body cameras are also valuable in DUI cases to protect officers from any constitutional violations, procedural mistakes, or other errors which can arise during a traffic stop. The footage helps DWI defense attorneys, jury members, and judges see and hear officer’s instructions when administering roadside sobriety tests, the demeanor and actions of the suspect, and other critical information. Finally, body cameras can also improve police-community relations and reduce police excessive use of force.
Whereas there is little question as to the value of body cameras, the biggest problem with their nationwide use is their high costs which can be especially daunting for smaller departments.
A Brazilian think tank—Igarapé Institute—has developed and is in the process of testing a smartphone app called CopCast as part of its Smart Policing Project. CopCast enables officers to turn their own smartphone into a body camera. This open source Android application has been in development since 2013 in conjunction with Google’s Jigsaw that seeks to improve technology to address many of the world’s most pressing and toughest global security challenges.
According to Igarapé Institute, its fundamental goals are threefold: to enhance police oversight and reduce departmental corruption; to improve officers’ protection from physical harm and false accusations; and to improve police-community interactions.
In the U.S., the Jersey City Police Department was the first to test the app. Starting with ten officers, the department has recently extended CopCast’s use to over 250 officers.
Benefits of using officer body cameras
A recent USA Today article discusses the benefits of police body cams and how cost remains a salient issue. Now, with CopCast, officers can download the app onto their smartphone while their supervisors download the desktop version so the latter can live stream any audiovisual recording. Further, GPS technology can provide the officer’s location in case of an unexpected emergency. Finally, once the officer stops recording the encounter, the entire recording is automatically saved on a server.
Currently, most available body cameras on the market require officers to download their video at the end of their shifts for supervisors to be able to review and organize said footage. CopCast offers real-time monitoring which can be invaluable in dangerous or high-risk situations.
CopCast use in real situations
According to Igarapé’s director of research Robert Muggah, officers in South Africa, Rio de Janeiro, and Bulgaria have been quick to adopt this app, especially those who are younger and more tech savvy who were already trying to figure out how to use their phones during their jobs. Jersey City’s increase in officers using CopCast further attest to the app’s relevance and value.
With use, bugs and other problems can be quickly addressed. For example, Jersey City’s Public Safety Director James Shea reported a problem with his department’s officers Samsung Galaxy S6 phones. According to Shea, in order to start recording, officers had to remove the phone from their chests, press a button, and then reattach the phones. In response, software developers were able to adjust the process so that officers can now use the “volume up” button to begin recording and the “volume down” to stop—all the while leaving the phone attached to their bodies and not wasting critical time or diverting their attention.
The ability to revise and update the app quickly is one of CopCast’s strongest selling points.
Perhaps the biggest complaint, however, is that officers who record any type of digital evidence on their phones risk having their phones subject to evidentiary confiscation—or the phones being subject to defense discovery—thus rendering any and all of the phones; contents subject to scrutiny in open court. However, this complaint can be easily bypassed by simply using smartphones that are issued by departments and not officers’ personal ones.
The bottom line
With the rise in highly publicized officer-involved shootings, this new technology is a more cost-effective way for departments to afford body camera technology. Currently, the high price tag is the single largest barrier for national adoption of this technology. With nearly 90 percent of the U.S.’s 18,000 police departments employing 50 or fewer officers, purchasing body cameras is, quite simply, not a budgetary priority.
Most body camera companies sell all-inclusive packages that include cameras but that require departments to use their storage services which can be quite expensive. Consequently, many law enforcement department heads experience sticker-shock when looking for such services.
CopCast has a basic version that is free to any police department, thus freeing up valuable and limited resources with which departments can shop for more cost-effective storage and support services. However, CopCast is only currently available on the Android operating system. The company is working on an iPhone version. Additionally, Igarapé is planning a paid service to assist smaller departments to customize the software to suit their own particular needs.
The end result is to provide a valuable and cost-effective platform for all police departments to use body camera technology they formerly could not afford.