How body-worn camera rules could help sexual assault survivors regain control while helping police

While body cameras are a relatively new tool for police officers, the research on the best ways to use them is still relatively lacking.

That’s why an assistant professor with Lakehead Univeristy’s criminology department has been conducting a number of studies about the use of the new technology and specifically, how it affects victims and survivors of intimate partner violence. 

Alana Saulnier says she’s hoping her research will help to create more sensitive policies for police departments to implement when using body cameras. 

“The question we are looking to explore here is: ‘What hopes and concerns do survivors of sexual assault and/or intimate partner violence have for body-worn cameras?” 

Evidence-based arguments for victim sensitive policies

“The reason for asking this question is to be able to produce an evidence base from which to argue for a victim sensitive body-worn camera policy,” Saulnier said 

She said the way that the cameras are used should be sensitive to the needs of survivors, but first those survivors need to be interviewed on what those needs might be.

In a past study Saulnier conducted, she found that while most survivors indicated they would be comfortable having cameras record their audio while offering statements to police, many expressed discomfort at the idea of being captured on video. 

We’re talking to people when they feel that massive amounts of control have been taken away from them.— Alana Saulnier, assistant professor at Lakehead University

“And I think that’s an understandable concern when you think about it,” she said. “And simply reorienting the camera lense so it doesn’t point directly at the survivor is something that is a useful policy in that regard, that speaks to a victim’s concern.”

She did note, however, that these kinds of policies would also require further discussion on discretionary use of body cameras. 

“Right now, there is some reasonable arguments for providing officers with discretion in ways that don’t overuse the amount of storage that is actually available when we think about recording contacts, that don’t invade privacy unnecessarily.”

Developing a national standard

Saulnier said the main idea is to offer victims a voice in these uncomfortable encounters, not to necessarily have police turn off body cameras completely. This, she said, could perhaps include a consent process. 

“We’re talking to people when they feel that massive amounts of control have been taken away from them. And ways that police officers can serve to provide control back to victims is something that’s very desirable.”  

Currently, Saulnier said there are some directives and policies in place but there’s no national standard, which she hopes to help change. 

Saulnier’s current research project involves a survey, which is gathering information from survivors until the end of December 2020. 

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