Double the impact: How combining less lethal devices and bodycams can enhance safety in corrections
Body-worn cameras and TASER CEWs often have a calming effect on tense situations, but using them together can also cut down on complaints and boost transparency
Sponsored by Axon
By Corrections1 BrandFocus Staff
Managing people’s behavior is no easy task, but COs do it every day. When it comes to de-escalation, tools like conducted energy weapons and body-worn cameras have proven useful in policing on the streets, and they can provide similar benefits behind bars.
For this article, Corrections1 spoke with two veteran corrections administrators to learn how implementing a less lethal weapon like the TASER CEW in conjunction with a body-worn camera program can both improve safety and reduce complaints in the correctional environment:
- Lt. Dan Brodie has worked with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office in Oakland, California, for over 20 years. As a member of the department’s Support Services Unit, he led the device selection, policy development and implementation for the second generation of ACSO’s body-worn camera program.
- Steve Maher is a former deputy commissioner and chief of investigations of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. He is also an attorney, retired from the military and currently teaches at the State University of New York at Albany in the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity.
THE PRESENCE OF THE DEVICES PROMOTES DE-ESCALATION
CEWs like the TASER are well-known for reducing the likelihood of violence in volatile situations. Many officers have reported that a suspect backed down after seeing the bright yellow weapon. The same can be said of body-worn cameras – people tend to behave better when they know they are being watched. The presence of these technologies can reduce uses of force and, when force is necessary, can also dramatically reduce harm to the offender.
“Time and time again, the presence of the camera and the presence of the TASER separately and together helped to have that calming effect,” said Brodie. “Maybe the display of a TASER doesn’t sound like a calming effect, but some of the inmates, when you display the TASER and it’s armed, they know that what could happen next is not the most wonderful experience, and just the display alone gets them to comply.”
According to Axon, one major police force documented that 84% of 23,000 incidents required only the display of the TASER CEW to end the confrontation.
“If I get compliance without actually having to touch anybody and it doesn’t injure me, it doesn’t injure the inmate, that’s phenomenal,” said Brodie.
DECIDING WHEN TO REVIEW BODYCAM VIDEO
In addition to the deterrent effect, body-worn cameras capture incidents as they unfold, providing evidence for later review. Many systems, such as the one from Axon, activate the bodycam when the TASER CEW is pulled out of its holster so that critical incidents are automatically captured, which can provide key evidence.
When reviewing an incident or investigating a complaint, says Maher, you have to take into consideration what you’re seeing on the body camera video along with all the other evidence available, such as officer and inmate statements. He also says it’s important to consider when individuals are allowed to review the video relative to when they give their statements.
“Most jurisdictions, both police and otherwise, tend to fall on the side of not having people review video before they give their statement,” said Maher. “It’s one piece of evidence, and you don’t want to be influenced by one thing over the other. That’s like you’re reading somebody else’s statement before you give your statement.”
When video is reviewed and by whom is a critical administrative consideration, adds Brodie.
“How in the process does that video get looked at by another set of eyes,” he said, “just to ensure things are OK, policies are followed, training considerations, or even for the purposes of commending a job well done?”
BENEFITS OF REVIEWING OR RELEASING BODYCAM VIDEO
Bodycam video has myriad applications in both policing and corrections, from incident review to training to release for public transparency. Brodie has seen the benefits of his agency’s body-worn camera program in protecting the staff and the agency, defending against complaints and providing cues for training to improve staff performance.
“Any way we can make ourselves better, both by protecting ourselves from unnecessary, unneeded liability, as well as recognizing what we’ve done wrong and improving ourselves to be better – those are benefits of a body-worn camera system,” he said.
Releasing bodycam video publicly promotes transparency, and it can quell complaints or dispel negative public perception. Each agency or facility must determine whether, when and how to share footage.
“We only release the videos in the situations where we are forced by law,” said Brodie, “but in those situations, I have found that the transparency aspect of just showing what there is does shut down that negative look at the agency.”
The ACSO had a death in custody in 2018 that drew a lot of attention and criticism – but the video showed the officers doing the right thing.
“Essentially, once we finally were able to release the video, the story just disappeared,” Brodie said. “It’s still there, but all the fervor, all the fight over it just chilled a little bit because what the video showed was our staff being caring and trying to calm this person down.”
DEVICE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS
Brodie recommends adopting a unified system to manage all the devices across your agency.
“We’re big and we’re sprawled out over the entire county of Alameda,” he said, “so that central management and that central issuance makes it so much easier to know what we have, where it is, who’s using it, what’s broken and what needs to be replaced, versus trying to do that on a unit-by-unit level.”
Before the ACSO adopted the unified system from Axon, each unit was trying to manage its own system, and some units managed better than others, he says, and the records were spread across all the different divisions and duty stations. Management is much easier now, and Brodie can tell in real time what equipment is in use.
“With our centralized system, I can log in right now and I can tell you exactly how many cameras we’re using, exactly how many TASERs are in use, when the last time things were used,” he said. “I would recommend that to any agency that asked me how to set up a program or what to consider. That’s my first consideration.”
Central management also reduces the amount of staff needed to run the program, he adds, because it doesn’t require a designated officer at each duty station to manage the devices for that site.
Training is also a key issue. As a weapon, the TASER CEW requires ongoing training and certification, but a body-worn camera that is intuitive and easy to use, like the Axon bodycams, can be rolled out quickly with a single agency-wide training upon deployment.
“The cameras are pretty easy to use, and this is an iPhone, smartphone, Android generation, so they catch on to it pretty quickly,” said Brodie. “We haven’t really had the need to run any ongoing training because once you’ve got that base and you’re surrounded by enough people that know it, that training just permeates and continues among everyone.”
CEWs AND BWCs ARE CRITICAL SAFETY EQUIPMENT
Now, Brodie says, the deputies assigned to both corrections and law enforcement in his agency see both the bodycams and TASER CEWs as crucial tools.
“I think most of our staff would be kicking and screaming if you took either their TASER or their camera, and they’d be downright assaultive of us if we try to take both their TASER and their camera away at the same time,” said Brodie. “They feel that they’re useful, that they do keep them safe both civilly as well as physically.”
Maher agrees, adding that these tools help create a safer working environment for COs as well as a safer living environment for inmates.
“Number one, TASER as less than lethal, is a really important development, and there’s an absolute place for it in the corrections and parole industry,” said Maher. “Body cameras even more so, because if you can save lives, de-escalate situations, prevent injuries, give officers a greater ability to do their jobs, give inmates a more secure environment to live so that their safety and rights are protected – all for the better.”
For more information, visit Axon.