Body Worn Cameras
Body-worn camera’s video (BWV), also known as body cameras and body-worn cameras, or wearable cameras is a wearable audio, video, or photographic recording system.
Body-worn video has a range of uses and designs, of which the best-known use is as a part of policing equipment. Other uses include action cameras for social and recreational (including cycling), within commerce, in healthcare and medical use, in military use, journalism, citizen surveillance, and covert surveillance.
Body-worn cameras are often designed to be worn in one of three locations: on the torso, on or built into a helmet, and on or built into glasses. Some feature live streaming capabilities while others are based on local storage. The National Criminal Justice Technology Research, Test, and Evaluation Centre has conducted market surveys on the body-worn cameras to assist organizations in purchasing the best camera. The survey discusses device functionality, optics, audio, GPS, and several more categories. These cameras range in price depending upon their features.
Applications of Body-Worn Cameras
Wearable cameras are used by police and other law enforcement organizations in countries around the world. The cameras are intended to improve interactions between officers and the public. The first generation of ‘modern’ police body cameras was introduced around 2005 in the United Kingdom, followed from 2014 onwards by large-scale implementation in the United States, mainly to increase transparency and police accountability. Other countries have followed the trend. Early studies overwhelmingly showed positive results, but replications have led to mixed findings. Outcomes have been shown to differ depending on the local context and the guidelines regulating activation of the bodycams. Challenges include training, privacy, storage, and the use of recordings further ‘downstream’ in the judicial system.
Body-worn cameras, as well as helmet cameras, are used in the military. Video can either be stored locally, or streamed back to a command center or military outpost. A notable instance of this was the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound, where live video footage of the raid is believed to have been streamed to the White House. In 2013, a British Royal Marine soldier was convicted of murder after shooting to death an unarmed and injured Afghan insurgent, contrary to the Geneva Convention. The incident had been recorded by a helmet camera whose images and the sound was used in evidence at a court-martial relating to the incident. The helmet camera has been the focus of the Discovery Channel series Taking Fire about the 101st Airborne in the Korengal documenting their personal war footage. In 2016 “a camera recovered from the helmet of a dead fighter offers a contrasting picture of chaos and panic in a battle with Kurdish peshmerga.”
Firefighters use helmet cameras as a tool to assess fires and for communication and training purposes. Cameras in this occupation are often thermal cameras in order to be able to see in darkness and inside smoke-filled buildings. Augmented reality can be added to accentuate outlines of objects and people.
Body Camera footage can be retrieved to look back on video recordings on activities the user has experienced. It is typically used for the evaluation of certain incidents or reporting about police misconduct.
The body-worn video has been suggested and explored in parts of the medical field. Data recorded from wearable cameras can assist in medical research and limit errors caused by inaccurate self-reporting of data. It is speculated that under-reporting is common when conducting dietary and nutrition assessments. Research suggests body-worn video reduces under-reporting of intake during such assessments. Cameras can for example be used as a memory prosthetic for conditions that affect the memory. Body-worn devices have been used to assist in clinical settings. In 2013, Google Glass was used to assist in surgery by providing a mostly hands-free way to broadcast and receive consultation from another surgeon. Body cameras were provided to hospital staff by the Cardiff and Vale Health Board in Wales, United Kingdom. The cameras were issued to reduce the likelihood of violent assaults against staff. According to the manager who provides support to staff who have been attacked, the cameras – and especially the audio recording – have been vital for successful prosecutions.
The adoption and deployment of body-worn cameras provide law enforcement agencies with a number of key opportunities and potential benefits that were previously unobtainable. Headline benefits include:
- Increased public confidence in local and national policing
- A reduction in the number of complaints and allegations made against police officers
- Reduced criminal justice costs due to an increase in early guilty pleas
- De-escalation of anti-social behavior
- A reduction in the number of assaults on police officers
- Ability to deploy BWV in areas not covered by other forms of CCTV
- Officer skill enhancement through the review of performance at incidents
- Reduction in officer time spent on paperwork
Over recent years, a number of police forces have released detailed reports based on their experiences using body-worn cameras. The statistics below are taken from these reports, and indicate that the growing use of body-worn cameras is having a positive impact on modern policing:
- 33% reduction in complaint allegations – Metropolitan Police
- Public support for BWV – Metropolitan
- Police equipped with body-worn cameras receive 93% fewer complaints from the public – Cambridge University
- 59% reduction in use-of-force incidents by officers wearing cameras – Rialto, California
- 39% increase in early guilty pleas – Police Scotland
Alongside the organizational value of the cameras, the officers themselves have also experienced a positive outcome from wearing body-worn cameras with 93% of officers believing body cameras help with evidence gathering and 80% of officers feeling body-worn cameras should be compulsory.
One of the major outcomes from the early adoption of body-worn cameras by the police was the recognition that agencies must have a clear deployment plan and policy for the use of the cameras.
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