- Law enforcement can improve transparency with technology like body-worn cameras, virtual reality (VR), and biometric data, offering an immersive understanding of police operations.
- The public can engage with 360-degree video footage, and review the physiological responses of officers during incidents, enhancing understanding of their decisions.
- Implementation challenges include robust 360-degree camera technology development, overcoming VR motion sickness issues, and addressing privacy and legal concerns around biometric data.
- The collection and release of officers’ physical data, similar to practices in sports, might be a new area to explore by 2030.
- This bold approach could help law enforcement build trust and understanding with the public, but privacy concerns must be addressed alongside technological advancements.
By Captain Cory Call
How can law enforcement leverage technology to offer the public a better understanding of police operations? One way is transparency: by providing them with increased access to body-worn camera videos and immersive experiences as they view them. The virtual environment can help educate the public about the realities of the job in ways never before possible.
How it might work
Consider a call where a group of people is breaking the windows of local businesses. An officer is nearby and contacts the group of 11, several of whom are carrying metal pipes. The officer is not physically assaulted or threatened, but the group surrounds the officer and begins yelling obscenities and taunting him. The officer retreats to a nearby street corner to wait for additional officers. The group breaks additional windows before being recontacted by several officers. With this show of force, the group complies with orders to drop their weapons, and several are arrested.
A local resident hears about this incident and is curious why the first officer initially fled the scene and allowed more windows to be broken. The citizen decides to learn more. While standing in her living room, she straps her virtual reality headset on, logs in to the police department’s YouTube channel, selects the initial officer’s body-worn camera video and views the 360-degree video from the officer’s perspective. She turns around several times to see and hear what members of the group are doing and saying from all sides. She also stops the video to view specific portions of the video in still frames.
Biometric data embedded into the video shows how the officer’s heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure all spiked sharply in response to being surrounded and confronted; these all decreased after he escaped the group. Pulling the headset off, the resident feels much more informed about the incident and sees why the officer acted as he did. Seeing and feeling the incident in its totality not only cleared her confusion, but she learned a lot about how police work can look and feel in the moment.
Law enforcement is reeling from an onslaught of challenges over the last decade, including a pandemic, major social unrest, significant legislative changes and a general disinterest in entering and remaining in the profession. Our adaptation requires meaningful action aimed at strengthening connections and building trust within the community.  Transparency and information sharing are at the heart of this, and maximizing efforts using existing and emerging technologies could result in significant progress. Using technology, law enforcement can help their citizenry see more of what happened, understand more fully why and more accurately know whether their police acted appropriately.
Social considerations and technological constraints
Body-worn cameras have become common in law enforcement and provide useful insights that were not previously available, but by 2030 law enforcement will be able to provide the public with even more information and understanding. As a profession that is notoriously behind the times in its use of technology, law enforcement should be prepared to embrace current and emerging technologies to offer the public a fuller experience when they examine police incidents. Using 360-degree body-worn cameras, virtual reality (VR) technology and biometric measuring technologies, law enforcement will be equipped to immerse the public in an officer’s environment during recorded incidents, while also allowing them to view statistical data representing the officer’s physiological responses.
Modern-day body-worn cameras provide great insight into police incidents. The data collected by these cameras has proven useful for review, training and court proceedings, but the most socially impactful results may occur when the data is released to the public. As helpful as the videos may be, this technology fails to capture large portions of the overall environment, resulting in incomplete information presented to the viewer. Also not captured is any tangible information that can be used to measure an officer’s physiological response to an incident, such as heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure. Officers are susceptible to experiencing reactions such as fear, anxiety and acute stress to the situations they face, which can impact their skilled motor performance and decision-making abilities.  This information could prove useful to understand an officer’s experience and state of mind at a given point during an incident. Making this data accessible to the public may strip away the mystery of why the police do what they do and become a useful tool to garner public support.
Solution through technology and education
As communities express their concerns and expectations, the police must continue to listen. Both sides believe the other does not fully understand their plights.  Law enforcement has an opportunity, though, to bring community members deeper into their profession using immersive video. In a “nothing to hide” gesture, and with redaction, privacy and investigative considerations addressed, law enforcement should consider making police videos more readily available to the public, possibly through an agency-specific YouTube channel or similar platform.
The goal of immersing people in police incidents should not only be to judge an involved person’s actions or intent; a primary focus should also be on providing people with a better understanding of the profession. With a shared perspective, people may experience feelings of empathy and connection for the officer.  While this may not be desired for general transparency and fact-finding viewing, it may prove useful in settings such as training.
Planning, strategy and implementation
Adopting citizen-available VR review of an officer’s experience will take time for product development and significant planning and communication on the side of law enforcement. As with other programs, agencies may want to combine resources. Regionalized efforts should be created with the specific purpose of adopting this strategy. Focus on these considerations:
- 360-degree body-worn camera technology is still being developed; an initial version exists and is being tested.  A version suitable for regular deployment with law enforcement agencies may be several years out. The cost of this technology is yet to be determined; however, it’s reasonable to believe it may be more costly than existing body-worn camera options. Recorded 360-degree video will also increase storage requirements, as the file sizes will increase. Factor this into budget considerations.
- VR technology is currently challenged by video recorded from rapidly moving sources, such as an officer who is running. For many, viewing this type of video results in levels of nausea. More research is necessary to understand how to make viewing video from a 360-degree body-worn camera possible in all circumstances.  The average cost of a VR headset is $430;  other costs will only be incurred if agencies choose to supply the technology for any reason, such as viewing rooms for the public or agency training purposes. Typical use by the public will involve privately owned VR headsets.
- Biometric measuring technologies in the form of wearables such as watches, rings and clothing already exist. While it’s accepted by many people, inserting this technology into law enforcement to be viewed and analyzed by others may present challenges. Agencies can begin looking into expected issues immediately, such as acceptance by those asked to wear the technology, privacy and HIPAA considerations, whether wearing the technology should be voluntary or mandatory, and legal considerations such as ownership of the collected data and the right to share the information. 
- The ability to share increased amounts of body-worn camera data through an agency YouTube site or similar platform exists; it’s other issues that must be worked out, such as investigative, privacy, tactical and legal considerations. Resistance may also be expected, similar to the initial use of body-worn cameras. But, mirroring many realities of current body-worn camera use, the benefits of the program may far outweigh the challenges.
Privacy concerns expressed by the community, advocacy organizations and law enforcement will be likely and may present significant hurdles. These concerns need to be anticipated, and solutions developed, prior to and throughout operations. Processes previously used to solicit public support for body-worn cameras provide direction for the future; before this proposed program can be considered, police and their communities must decide whether the benefits justify the acceptance of any concerns surrounding privacy. 
Body-worn cameras and the release of body-worn videos are familiar topics for law enforcement and the public, but the collection and potential release of officers’ physical data would be a new topic to explore. However, the professional and collegiate sports worlds are already using this technology within a developing regulatory environment.  By 2030, significantly more data is expected to be available regarding the use of biometrics in sports, which can inform public safety agencies as they contemplate similar uses and issues such as data ownership, the interpretation and release of data, and optional versus mandatory use.
Law enforcement must seek bold ideas to help connect with the public, not solely in response to social and political pressures or based on legislative requirements, but to acknowledge and serve our citizens through education and transparency. People want more information about issues that interest and concern them, whether it’s delivered to them directly or provided for them to consume when they choose. Withholding information often results in distrust and resentment, and many people will draw unfortunate conclusions based on the limited information provided to them; law enforcement understands this very well.
In a bold move, law enforcement should consider the possibility of working toward an expansive sharing of body-worn camera data that is far beyond the current norm, utilizing biometric data that details officers’ physiological conditions and technology to immerse viewers in an officer’s environment. Such a change from current practices could be a progressive and successful effort in law enforcement’s attempts to build trust and understanding with the public.
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About the author
Cory Call is a captain with the Foster City (California) Police Department. He began his career in 1999 as a deputy with the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office before lateralling to Foster City. Call has a master’s degree in law enforcement and public safety leadership from the University of San Diego and is a graduate of the California POST Command College.