Body worn cameras have been viewed as a way to address challenges and improve law enforcement practices. The technology currently used is mounted on the deputy’s chest and objectively records encounters with members of the community. A body worn camera offers real-time information and is a surveillance tool to promote officer safety and efficiency, and sometimes even prevent incidents from escalating. The Randolph County Sheriff’s Office Detention Center started using body cameras in 2019. However, the majority of the detention center is under constant video surveillance and remote monitoring. In addition, the majority of incidents that occur in the facility are witnessed by other inmates or staff members. In 2020, the 18 body cameras were therefore reallocated to the patrol teams who often face situations alone with no witnesses and no surveillance. At that time, patrol utilized nine cameras per shift while the other nine are charging and downloading images from the previous shift; however, this left three deputies on each shift without a body camera.
It was the intention of the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office to obtain body cameras for all deputies who work in the public and face uncontrollable situations in the absence of surveillance and witnesses. In 2021, the Sheriff’s Office purchased 60 additional body cameras to cover patrol shifts, the deputies assigned to the City of Trinity and the patrol deputies assigned to the North Carolina Zoo, deputies serving civil papers and warrants, as well as those assigned to the Criminal Interdiction Team, Vice Narcotics Division and Criminal Investigations Division to be used by detectives conducting field interviews that need to be recorded.
Recent reports show that proponents of body worn cameras list these potential benefits:
- Better transparency. First, body-worn cameras may result in better transparency and accountability and thus may improve law enforcement legitimacy. Video footage captured during these officer-community interactions might provide better documentation to help confirm the nature of events and support accounts articulated by officers and community residents.
- Increased civility. Body-worn cameras may also result in higher rates of citizen compliance to officer commands during encounters and fewer complaints lodged against law enforcement. Citizens often change their behavior toward officers when they are informed that the encounter is being recorded. This “civilizing effect” may prevent certain situations from escalating to levels requiring the use of force and also improve interactions between officers and citizens.
- Quicker resolution. Body-worn cameras may lead to a faster resolution of citizen complaints and lawsuits that allege excessive use of force and other forms of officer misconduct.
- Corroborating evidence. Footage captured may also be used as evidence in arrests or prosecutions. Proponents have suggested that video captured by body-worn cameras may help document the occurrence and nature of various types of crime, reduce the overall amount of time required for officers to complete paperwork for case files, corroborate evidence presented by prosecutors, and lead to higher numbers of guilty pleas in court proceedings.
- Training opportunities. The use of body-worn cameras also offers potential opportunities to advance policing through training. Finally, video footage can provide law enforcement executives with opportunities to implement new strategies and assess the extent to which officers carry out their duties in a manner that is consistent with the assigned initiatives.
In 2020, the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office issued policy governing the use of body worn cameras and the management of recordings. The Operations Major is responsible for evaluating the use of body cameras and ensuring that the policy is strictly followed.