Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 24, 2015

Body Cam Ripples Will Become Waves

Filed under: Technology for HLS — by Max Geron on March 24, 2015

We’ve only begun to see the reality of police work thanks to body cameras.

In March of 1989 the world was given an inside view of the profession that I’ve been fortunate to be a part of for the last 23 years when the television show COPS premiered on the FOX network. That was as close to the reality that thousands of others and I experienced in the ensuing decades than anyone has come to sharing.

Body cameras will do even more.

police lapel-camera-web

Just as body cameras are a disruptive technology, the ripples of the reality that officers face will be disruptive to American society.  We’ve already seen a glimpse of those ripples in the revelation of the Jason Harrison shooting that occurred on June 14, 2014 – the body camera video being released only a few weeks ago.

Many citizens are highly critical and raise doubt about the dangers of a man with a screwdriver. Many officers however, view the video convinced of the dangers that a screwdriver can pose.  Mere days after the Harrison shooting a teenager was attacked and stabbed (nearly to death) in Dallas with a screwdriver.

The point of this post is not to justify the actions of the officers. The purpose is to illustrate the divide in perceptions of threats and reasonableness of actions that appears to exist between many police and the general public, and how body cameras will continue to reveal that divide.

Body cameras will show the ugly realities that officers face. The cameras will fail to answer all of the questions or provide all of the information necessary to form a complete, educated opinion of any situation.  Additionally they will provide an opportunity to replay incidents like the Harrison shooting in frame-by-frame detail, giving opportunities to you and me that were never afforded the officers in the field.  The ability to do so is neither fair nor unfair to the officers, it just is the reality of the technology and world in which we live.  What we do with that ability is critical.

Furthermore, body cameras will continue to provide access to the confusion that comes in the midst of the most stressful situations an officer will likely ever be involved in. There will be seemingly irrational questions by officers about whether or not they should handcuff a dying man, or the yelling for the man to drop a screwdriver after he’s been shot.  To police officers, those commands are natural and make sense because officers are trained to give those orders.  They are not sitting at a screen watching the video, they are living with the adrenaline coursing through their system and working to control their very natural fight or flight responses.

We will see more videos where officers initial statements do not match exactly what the video shows.  In these highly stressful situations we can expect that because of the way the brain processes information – in part, we don’t know exactly on what the individual officers were focusing their attention when the incident occurred.  We already know that witnesses recall things differently and police are humans as well.  That will not stop attorneys from capitalizing when there are differences in officers’ recollections.  That will also not stop some critics from accusing officers of lying when it occurs.  That too is the reality and part of the disruption.

Get ready, because we will see videos of horrific accident scenes where officers arrive and swear a person was just talking to them when the video will reveal they were clearly not and were likely already close to death.   We will see the limits of individuals’ cognitive abilities when exposed to extreme stress.  The hope of the officers lies in the psychologists and medical experts to explain discrepancies in what officers had the availability of seeing and what they actually recall seeing.  So far most of the discussion has been by attorneys, unions, journalists and activists.

Transparency and open objective discussion along side research and clinical study on cognition under stress will be imperative to our understanding what happens during these critical incidents.  We will be witness to other scenes that, in fairness to all, will require more explanation and critical thought.  The videos will speak for themselves but be assured that what they say will in all likelihood not be the final word.


Major Max Geron works for the Dallas Police Department. He is a security studies scholar who received his master’s degree in Homeland Security from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School. The opinions of the author are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Dallas Police Department or the City of Dallas.


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Comment by Arnold Bogis

March 24, 2015 @ 1:39 am

What I continue to not fully understand are statements such as this: “The purpose is to illustrate the divide in perceptions of threats and reasonableness of actions that appears to exist between many police and the general public, and how body cameras will continue to reveal that divide.”

Not an argument for or against cameras. Instead a question about the “divide in perceptions.” What are the threats to police on a daily basis? I can’t even imagine the anxiety faced by those dealing with high threat situations.

However, the statistics say that according to the law enforcement memorial page, line of duty deaths in 2014 numbered 125 for the entire nation (which includes automobile accidents, heart attacks while on duty, accidental gun deaths, as well as direct attacks).

I’d bet if you asked the citizen on the street they’d number police deaths a whole lot higher. This isn’t taking away from any of their deaths or service. Just to point out that the perception of threat is probably higher in the public’s mind than is represented in the numbers. And if so, what does that say about this “divide?”

And if I’m wrong about this perception, how far off am I?

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 24, 2015 @ 8:57 am

Thanks Max for this thoughtful post. Could you give some details on the Dallas police? Eligibility for retire? Level of education? Size? Federal and State contributions to annual finding? Level of training?
Line of duty deaths over last 20 years? Prior employment and post employment of police? What specific HS training has the Dallas Force received on HS and EM and how does it understand its role and training in a large-scale HAZMAT EVENT whether or not caused by terrorists? Training e.g. in how to knock over a METH LAB and what kind of protective gear the force has for a WMD event?

Does DALAS have any officers wearing cameras?

No rush!

Who paid for your tuition and salary during your time at the NPGS?


Comment by Gregory Bernard

March 24, 2015 @ 3:45 pm

Thank you Max, I’ve been really surprised that there hasn’t been a greater discussion about the “divide” between the police and the public that you identify in your post. While you focus on ‘the perception of threats and reasonableness of actions’, I believe this divide is more far-reaching and destructive for the homeland security enterprise than currently acknowledged. I think it goes without question that 125 in the line of duty deaths for police officers is unacceptable and ensuring the safety of our officers is paramount. I would also state however, that anywhere from 400-1200 (the numbers are not accurately tracked) police shootings, should be equally frightening. Yesterday’s media blitz following the DOJ report on Philly PD’s use of force standards (394 shootings over four years, 60 of whom were unarmed), along with the ever inflammatory “you’re more likely to be killed by X than terrorism” articles (currently the police is the ‘X’ du jour, and it’s anywhere from 8 times to 58 times by the way), continues to erode the already shaky ground upon which public trust has been built. The public is a crucial part of the homeland security enterprise, not only from a ‘see something say something’ standpoint, but a policy/budget standpoint as well. When there are petitions calling for the disbanding of DHS or specific components, and members of congress (purportedly representing the will of their constituents) withholding the DHS budget, it is important to pay attention and recognize some serious deficiencies that need to be addressed. I would propose that a significant one is the relationship between law enforcement (Federal, State and local) and the public. Body Cameras may be one of the ways in which to address this problem. San Diego, CA has seen great gains since the implementation of body cameras; “complaints have fallen 40.5% and use of “personal body” force by officers has been reduced by 46.5% and use of pepper spray by 30.5%.” However I don’t believe that body cameras alone will prevent the issues from occurring, nor will they completely address the trust issue. It would seem as though one of the fundamental principles of modern policing has been overlooked of late, and it would benefit us all to re-invigorate it, and drive it to the forefront of our dialogue. Peel’s Principles, number 7: “To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.” I cannot think of better ground on which to build trust, given at the end of the day, our objectives remain the same. Interested in hearing your thoughts….

Comment by Arnold Bogis

March 24, 2015 @ 8:20 pm

Gregory, “The Wire” nailed your point about relationships with the public:


Comment by Mark Trower

March 25, 2015 @ 9:00 am

Excellent post, Max. My class was discussing this yesterday. I feel cameras are a net-positive (they’ll exonerate far more officers than they will incriminate), but this is an example of technology being rushed into implementation without a complete understanding of the administrative and legal ramifications.

In states where juvenile offenders’ names are protected from public release, how will departments handle public information requests where the footage depicts a ‘protected’ person interacting with the officer? Not only juveniles, but what of sexual assault victims? Will witnesses be more reluctant to speak to an officer knowing they’re being photographed, and does a citizen abrogate his or her privacy rights simply because they called 911?

The stock LE response is that sensitive footage can be redacted, but who pays for the editing labor? A request or subpoena for all the footage from a particular incident involving four officers could contain 30-40 hours of footage to be edited.

Bodycams are likely here to stay, but a workable protocol for handling the video product has yet to be worked out by most users.

Comment by Citizen Joe

March 25, 2015 @ 10:25 am

A great reference and yes, more community policing maybe in my Grandfather’s day, but heck not today for our politicians are lawless and blatant led by the infamous Chicago city street slicker who ran not just to Cairo to apologize for America, but quickly intervened in a local 911 police matter in Cambridge and so forth and now will afford his Iranian pals the WMD most certainly pointing the world to conflagration soon.

Every dedicated professional police officer or cop as some refer to these brave men and women who are at our side in a moment’s notice and everyone of them on the street has been marked by this perverse eight year WH resident and this biased AG and the idiot in New York who should have been fired as Mayor!

No, community policing may be a terrific idea, however the opportunity long past for our public officials who arrogantly laugh and a media with (her) at the fact that information which is our government’s is at her home and she refuses to give it up and should of already been jailed for suspicion in breach of faith, treason at the “Benghazi Massacre” so the folks on the streets see the lack of leadership and integrity and our allowance of this partisan politics and that the “elite politicians” who are such deceivers and I do not want to see our police officers more exposed to the violent behavior we have seen among the crowds at Ferguson for example who chose to see color rather than the truth!

You have elected false leaders who in their quest in self-serving ambition have now placed our beloved Republic in much jeopardy and the dedicated men and women in blue should be given the freedom to wear such cameras or not for it seems the odds are against police officers who are so disrespected and must on a daily basis even for a routine traffic stop deal with a bunch of rabid animals….

DHS permitted known convicts to be released…we have immigrants by the droves crossing the border w/o any documentation and certificates of health and inoculation, but politicians are demanding that our kids be inoculated while the lawless are permitted to walk among us –

I am an American, not a Democrat or a Republican and justice and laws must be adhered to and when supposed leadership is self absorbed, well, what do you expect from the kids of Chicago who have never been visited by Barry Obama because he could give a damn while he and his family retire to California and relish in their elite status and millions in assets – reminding me of the story about the student who worked diligently to get an A and she was asked if she would accept a B and give a portion of her hard earned work and grade to a student whose indifference and lack of study and commitment demanded a D and of course I doubt Barry and Michelle and their kids will be residing in Chicago!

Community policing – that sounds great, but watch the next time you see one of our brave and proud police officers walking up to a stopped vehicle – I can’t imagine the stress of the job and this divisiveness w/the falseness of Hands up so tolerated by a biased press as well –

Americana – you are lost and unless you demand goos ‘ol Ms. Hillary return her server and show Respect to we the people, well, from here on out, only more and more challenge which this nation will never overcome as China is working to spin its juan as the currency of the day and overnight and shortly, chaos will break out on the streets of America as real Americans who do appreciate Liberty will no longer tolerate this “Chicago-Hollywood-Washington” charade!

Enough is enough….

When one calls 911, it is not the politician by your side, but a dedicated community servant who must put up with more than you can imagine by such an unruly populace disregarding laws much like their politicians….don’t forget it —

Comment by Citizen Joe

March 25, 2015 @ 2:18 pm

….and by way, the latest news that the US Army is charging Bowe Bergdahl with desertion is exactly what I have been referring to when pointing to a failed and disgusting US leadership which seems so contrary to our values and those on “Main Street USA” who see such corrupt ways among those we cast precious vote for to see only self-serving ways so it is no wonder that at least some in the populace and especially the youth have little respect for authority and even the teacher in our classroom so I will move this discussion even further and be the first suggest that given the rise against in classroom violence against teachers, our educators be afforded the opportunity to wear cameras as well –

I am aghast at the deceit and embarrassment from the office of the President of the United States making “apology” to Islam and its terrorist factions and from the Secretary of State and my call that both be held for suspicion in breach of faith, treason for the “Benghazi Massacre” by Congress and now further appalled at the arrogance of good ‘ol Ms. Hillary humoring this supposed media about her email and server yesterday – no one is above the law and while the illustrious AG and this eight year WH resident have done everything to be divisive in every way, the release by DHS of convicted criminals and the release of five real bad guys back into the enemy lines coupled with this charade in negotiating w/Tehran. well…

The blood of our youth and police officers and as an example when two of our best – the NYPD were slain in their car and this lawlessness and intentional looking the other way when crime is committed….our police officers are in the forefront everyday and like many on “Main Street USA” we see quite clearly the likes of Barry Obama, Bill Ayers and the anarchists who stood at Har’vd on their milk boxes spewing anti-cops and anti-American rhetoric —

You talk about our police officers having cameras when these criminals have little Respect as does this White House who butts in to ongoing police response and actions such as Cambridge (MA) and at Ferguson and w/good ‘ol Al sitting at the WH table as well spreading blatant lies about the degree of bias in this nation .
I propose that teachers are now afforded the right to protect themselves in the classroom and anyone who touches a teacher/an educator, prosecuted and thrown into jail –

The utter disrespect that Barry Obama, Hillary Clinton and any other politician including Bill Clinton whose sexual prowess touch every American home by his abusive ways…body cams for teachers then and let’s have someone in whatever political party which can stand up and enforce the laws in this nation and that includes prosecuting illegal immigrants who have knowingly broken the law while tens of thousands of wonderful folks have chosen to apply properly with medical certifications and sometimes wait two and three years for a Visa!

Close our borders now and our police officers are the victims of this disgusting portrayal of lust in power with disregard for our laws and our values –

God Bless America!

Citizen Joe

Comment by Max Geron

March 25, 2015 @ 4:21 pm

Mr. Bogis and Mr. Bernard,

Thank you for the follow up questions. The “divide” of which I speak is illustrated, to some degree, by Conor Friedersdorf of the Atlantic and Radley Balko of the Washington Post in the articles by each of them linked below:



The divide is often rank and file officers vs. the public and sometimes the command staff on what is reasonable. Regarding the Harrison case, retired Sgt. Keith Wenzel said the tactics used were “absolutely perfect.” Much of society and many officers agree as illustrated in Mr. Friedersdorf’s article where he linked the Facebook posts of some officers. Many citizens however see the violence in the video and the rapid escalation and (as Haidt would argue) intuitively conclude that this was wrong. Officers, primed with the training against edged weapons and conditioned for “hyper-vigilance” see the screwdriver as an immediate threat and intuitively conclude that the officers did what was necessary. Both groups then construct their strategic arguments to support their respective positions.

As police leaders we need to address training issues and the events that lead up to uses of force as well as discussing how and why we perceive the dangers as we do. I don’t think that it can all come from law enforcement however. As I mentioned I think it takes legitimate groups/individuals to illustrate lethality and tactics while we also work to maximize any and all reasonable alternatives.

Dealing with the mentally ill poses quite a challenge in that we have to give our officers conflicting instructions. We teach them to use loud verbal commands when they spot a weapon for a few reasons 1) because the sight of a weapon will cause the adrenaline dump and the loud commands will keep the officers breathing 2) we want the person with the weapon to know we see it and to communicate exactly what they should do and 3) that bystanders who may be witness can attest that officers tried to get the individual to comply.

The conflict comes when we introduce another option that officers must consider when dealing specifically with the mentally ill. We now say DO NOT use loud verbal commands and instead remain calm. This increases the time officers will spend in the OODA loop, (Observe – Orient – Decide – Act) thereby increasing their reaction time. They have to make the decision whether or not to use loud verbal commands or fight the “fight or flight” response going on in their body.

It’s possible for them to do this, it happens most every day but we have to train them for it and understand potential consequences of those added options. While each and every police shooting or police casualty or death is tragic, I think we would benefit from a Mueller & Stewart styled analysis of the true relationships to contacts/use of force/deadly force encounters etc…



While use of force incidents appear in many/most circumstances to be reduced once body cameras are issued, I agree that they will not prevent issues around the uses of force that are captured. My assertion is that policing has evolved through the years, often unbeknownst to the general public and a few recent incidents have brought to the forefront some of those evolutionary changes.

Finally (at least for this response), I think level-headed objective discussion needs to occur within police departments with regard to tactics that lead up to use of force so that officers are not (to use a legal term) creating their own exigent circumstances necessitating a use of force.

Comment by I'm with Mahdi

March 25, 2015 @ 8:22 pm

Citizen Joe,

Are you saying we shouldn’t inoculate American youth because of illegal immigration? Is that your main point?

Comment by Gregory Bernard

March 25, 2015 @ 8:28 pm


Excellent points all. The implementation of body cams does appear to be a knee-jerk reaction to the current situation, without thinking through all the issues. Well put.

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 26, 2015 @ 8:57 am

Rescue of child in Alabama fire by policeman recorded by body cam.

Comment by Mike Mealer

March 27, 2015 @ 11:33 pm

Jack Webb summed up some of the police-citizen issues here.


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