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Integrating Body Worn Cameras and Technology into Police & Public Safety Critical Incident Response

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

Technological innovations have been changing the public safety landscape. From drones to body worn cameras to GPS monitoring systems and automated licence plate readers, advances in law enforcement technology are making it possible for organizations to enhance public safety like never before. But like any technology, it is only a useful advancement if the operator knows how to use it and maximize its potential and public safety organizations also understand its implications. Every new system or network intended to improve policing can also bring with it financial challenges, organizational transformation and public scrutiny to agencies that may not be prepared for them. Forward thinking leadership that embraces the migration to technology-driven incident management is essential to meet the challenges and opportunities facing public safety professions.

As technology becomes more integrated and sophisticated, having the capability to provide a coordinated and effective response to high risk critical incidents becomes increasingly essential. Cultural shifts by police and public safety leaders embracing new and advanced technologies, combined with advanced tactical response skills, will provide their teams with the available equipment, training and preparedness to respond to threats to public safety. Informing critical incident response through real time and live data will drive change in pursuit of advanced critical response options.

Regardless of size or resource capacity, it is essential to arm our first responders with the tools crucial to the effective response, planning, and supervision of operations in a crisis. Technology is now available to allow real-time situational awareness for dispatch, Incident Commanders, Tactical Command, Frontline Supervisors and Crisis Negotiator Units to get a more complete picture of evolving situations using a series of devices anywhere; when getting the right information to the right people at the right time is critical. Applications exist that address significant information gaps using a network of intelligent, connected devices that will directly impact critical incident response, improve officer safety, enhance community safety, improve efficiency and ultimately advance the collective team effort and effective resolution of these major incidents.

At a time when body worn cameras are being introduced to Public Safety Agencies throughout Canada, it is incumbent upon public safety and police leaders to embrace not just the new but the next technology and the steps that comes with data driven response like smart weapons, live cameras in the air and in vehicles, licence plate recognition providing near instant feedback, integrated dispatch systems, geo mapping of officer positions and intelligence gathering from the general public and responders on the ground uploaded in real time through an online portal or from individuals via a direct link. Officers are now armed with smart phones that can gather evidence, live stream, and communicate with other systems impacting time delays.

Critical Incidents are not stand alone events that are resolved when the safety risk changes or a subject is in custody. Large scale major investigations are ongoing in tandem with critical incidents and investigators now have the ability to access and share important evidence as the situation unfolds. Responders in the field can use this technology to share data and evidence in real time.

There are specific principles of action to consider during critical incidents where the response must:

1. Control the situation as quickly and safely as possible

2. Deploy incident teams that are well-trained and highly skilled

3. Achieve effective internal and external communication

4. Build situational awareness with superior information sharing systems

5. Use a strong, well-rehearsed decision making process for responders

6. Create clear team structures with defined roles and responsibilities

7. Advance effective leadership with cross trained leaders in cross-functional teams

8. Share and preserve evidence and maintain records

9. Ensure learning processes are in place: lessons learned, debriefs and improvement practices

In considering these principles we must also consider what tools are best suited for an incident response that could be multi-jurisdictional or require joint incident command across all public safety organizations.

There are FOUR unique high risk incident categories considered in Critical Incident Response: Critical Incidents, High Level Search for High Risk Missing Persons, Public Order Events and Major Emergencies (Disasters).

When we consider the risks attached to vulnerable missing persons calls for service we know that time is paramount and an information dissemination plan, to and from the public, must be operational as soon as possible. Technologies exit to engage the public as ‘eyes on the ground’ very quickly. Search planners are also challenged by accurately determining the areas that had been searched by searchers. For example, current data collection does not indicate how well the searcher actually searched the area - it just identifies where the searcher has been. The use of technologies that communicate with each other like Body Worn Camera (BWC) GPS mapping, airborne drones with thermal technology, police fleet cameras enabled with Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR) when searching for a vehicle, all share the real data for a more accurate response. In addition, responders conducting missing person investigations must remain mindful of the possibility that the case may escalate into a major crime investigation; accordingly, all investigative measures employed, in particular all statements taken must be carefully recorded and integrated devices allow evidence to be captured. The preservation of evidence is a crucial consideration at the earliest stages.

Consider a situation with a high risk for loss of life requiring tactical response and intervention including incidents requiring containment, perimeter control, evacuations, an armed barricade, hostage taking, weapons incidents and active suicides. With integrated technologies, a tactical commander (in a Command Post) can view live mapping of their teams without using the radio to communicate and has an accurate picture of member perimeter locations and up to date movements including the ability to livestream from body worn cameras at observation points. Drones can simultaneously stream data to the command post and skilled teams within a team (i.e.: Arrest team, Entry Team, Sniper/Observers, Explosive Forced Entry, Hostage Rescue) can receive accurate and up to date information directly on their smart devices to assist them in their action plans.

Supervisors and dispatchers can redeploy perimeter officers more effectively during fast paced location changes during a canine track without relying on radio communications and lack of location data.

Crisis Negotiators gather information and begin a subject assessment as soon as possible and determine a risk and lethality assessment. BWC footage and intelligence about the subject including officer involvement prior to arrival, communications with dispatch, communication with members of the public and real time social media access would be invaluable. Negotiators can now access live streaming to assess the behaviour and communication of armed suspects, hostages or barricaded subjects to help in determining appropriate strategies during crisis negotiations. They can confer with a mental health professional in near real time allowing experts access to ongoing negotiations, subject communication and interactions to assist with a forensic opinion, expertise and professional assistance.

BWC and integrated device technology allows for patrol officers to communicate with off-site crisis negotiators, mobile crisis officers or mental health/crisis professionals for crisis de-escalation consultation and negotiation advice on high risk calls for service involving subjects suffering a mental health crisis.

Public order events, whether planned or unplanned, can escalate to circumstances where the response that is required to maintain public order is likely to exceed the capability of the normal response and are considered a high risk to officer and public safety. There is a clear need for integrated technology in the planning stages for all known events for consideration of safety plans, evacuation, strategic deployment, interoperability concerns like multi-jurisdictional response teams and Public Order Units who require integrated communication and real time intelligence during the event. A drone in the air and live streaming from responders on the ground will assist command with deployment of resources as the situation changes.

In response to public safety emergencies caused by the forces of nature (fire, flood, tornado, ice storm), a health risk (pandemic, water contamination), an accident or an act whether intentional or otherwise (building collapse, train derailment, explosions, marine incidents) we know that real time information is key to effective emergency response and triaging resources. Technology allowing responders on scene to stream, upload and share real time data about the situation drives the emergency management response. Challenges of multi-jurisdictional response and interoperability test Incident Commanders in understanding the real time scope of the incident with regard to public safety. Body worn cameras, access to camera feeds from the location, integrated smart devices providing data from first responders will all support Command in the development of strategies and tactics and the ordering and deployment of resources.

While many organizations are equipped with tools that are capable of resolving critical incidents, there is a growing need to address and mitigate the risks associated with interoperability, time delays and communications concerns. As technology becomes more integrated and sophisticated, having the capability to provide a coordinated and effective response to public safety threats relies on the first responders, specialized teams, quick and safe response using the best tools and enhancing their ability to work cohesively towards risk mitigation and resolution.

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