Public Sector Risk

Capturing the Moment

Video technology is being used more frequently by municipalities to reduce liability involving police activities
By: | October 8, 2014 • 6 min read

In Ferguson, Mo., most recently, but in a growing number of situations, citizens are using their cellphones to capture videos of police officers in action.

Often, those videos offer negative portrayals, but more and more, police departments are using similar technology to demonstrate their professionalism and protect their reputations.

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“We may have reached the point where video technology is producing a full-fledged revolution in policing,” said Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberty Union’s speech, privacy and technology project.

“That revolution has been crystallized, or at least revealed by, the events in Ferguson. The first element of that revolution is a growing expectation among Americans that any dramatic event that takes place in public will be recorded on video.”

“We may have reached the point where video technology is producing a full-fledged revolution in policing.” — Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst, American Civil Liberty Union

In reality, dramatic events may be dwarfed by the mundane day-to-day routine, but body-worn cameras (BWCs) are being used by a rapidly growing number of police departments around the country. Such use has, among other things, proven a boon to reducing liability suits brought against police departments.

Use of BWCs reduced the use of force incidents by 59 percent at the Rialto, Calif., police department in the year after it introduced its program in 2012, while reducing citizens’ complaints by 87.5 per cent, said Police Chief Tony Farrar, who added that he was convinced there was a direct connection between these dramatic declines and the introduction of BWCs.

Proponents of body-worn cameras by police officers say they protect officers from false accusations, reduce agency liability and citizen complaints, and provide evidence for use in court.

A study sponsored by the International Association of Chiefs of Police noted that 93 percent of police misconduct cases where video was available resulted in the officer’s exoneration; 50 percent of the complaints were immediately withdrawn when video evidence was used, and 94 percent of citizens supported the use of video.

Steve Tuttle, a founding team member of TASER International, observed in PoliceOne.com: “The biggest issues that body-worn cameras can solve are reducing litigation and complaints while increasing officer efficiency. Ultimately it reduces the he said/she said, which saves communities money in meritless complaints.”

Video saves time, money and sometimes officers’ jobs, added Michael Millhollen, marketing specialist at Digital Ally, Inc., whose products include the FirstVu officer-worn or mountable video systems.

“Faced with the knowledge that an incident is on video, most complaints against the agency are dropped and many prosecution cases are uncontested or expedited,” Millhollen said. “That equates to less investigating allegations as well as reduced expenses from lawsuits and insurance.”

Unanticipated Exposures

Joshua Gold, head of the cyber insurance recovery group, Anderson Kill P.C.

Joshua Gold, head of the cyber insurance recovery group, Anderson Kill P.C.

While early statistics indicate that BWCs are a promising effective risk management tool, like a lot of technological innovations, they can create unanticipated problems, said Joshua Gold, head of the cyber insurance recovery group at Anderson Kill P.C., a NYC-based national law firm specializing in insurance recovery.

“For example, if these cameras capture images of people who are innocent and uninterested in any type of publicity but nonetheless get caught up in unflattering video footage, you could see legal defense coverage costs coverage, at a minimum, being implicated and important to cash-strapped municipalities,” said Gold.

Even something as heroic as officers helping to deliver a baby could arguably constitute an invasion of privacy if the video footage ended up posted to the Internet or lampooned on late-night cable programming, he noted.

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“As such, while the BWCs may reduce liability exposure for certain types of risks like bodily injury claims and false arrest claims, they could arguably lead to other exposures dealing with privacy, false light and emotional distress from alleged public humiliation,” Gold added.

“Personal injury and media liability-type insurance coverage would become more valuable if these risks were to pan out.”

Another challenge is how best to store the video footage, whether it is done by the police department or an outside provider.

“Agencies often overlook the need to securely store, manage and retrieve their digital evidence after it has been captured,” said Tuttle.

“To provide the most value, agencies ensure they have a robust plan and service to facilitate data storage, management and retrieval,” he said. “The focus on cameras often makes the back-end solution an afterthought when it is just as crucial, if not more, than the cameras.”

Marilyn L. Rivers, director risk and safety, and compliance officer for the City of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., added: “A high degree of responsibility exists to ensure these videos recorded by police shoulder-cameras and police dash-cams are appropriately kept safe with stringent administrative policies for privacy and management.

Marilyn L. Rivers, director risk and safety, and compliance officer, City of Saratoga Springs, N.Y

Marilyn L. Rivers, director risk and safety, and compliance officer, City of Saratoga Springs, N.Y

“We always want to make sure we don’t have a group of people standing around a computer laughing at a silly puppy video for lack of a better [example],” Rivers said.

Rivers underscored the vital role of privacy in the use of body-worn cameras. “Risk management folks across the country are constantly trying to equalize the safekeeping of our communities while we maintain the balance of an individual’s right to privacy,” she said.

Police officers are always trying to manage that invasion of privacy while still providing protection, she said.

While it’s still too soon for the City of Saratoga Springs to statistically measure results of its camera program, the videos have been helpful in recording the behavior of the folks the police engage with, Rivers said.

“It supplements our law enforcement program and is particularly helpful where we have cameras in downtown areas that are trouble prone,” she noted.

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With the wealth of individual camera phones within the community, the shoulder cameras record what the officer experiences from his viewpoint as he deals with various situations, Rivers said.

“It allows a comparison of multiple viewpoints for the same occurrence,” she said. “It also serves as an official recording of what may or may not have happened in any given situation. As a police officer in the face of a potential of multiple cameras recording his or her every move, it is a use of technology that is helpful to his or her workday.

“I would say that it has added to our defense mechanisms as we give those videos to the district attorney’s office when they prosecute cases.”

“Historically, liabilities for allegations of assault, false arrest, wrongful imprisonment, trespass and the like are all covered under standard form insurance liability policies purchased by such entities.” — William G. Passannante, co-chair, insurance recovery group, Anderson Kill

Anderson Kill’s William G. Passannante, New York-based co-chair of the firm’s insurance recovery group, said that state and municipal government entities regularly purchase liability insurance that covers the liability asserted on account of the actions of their police officers.

“Historically, liabilities for allegations of assault, false arrest, wrongful imprisonment, trespass and the like are all covered under standard form insurance liability policies purchased by such entities,” said Passannante.

The apparent reduction in claims in Rialto, Calif., suggests that BWCs could be part of a loss control program supported by insurance underwriters, he added.

“Liability for ‘misuse’ of BWC, such as in a claim for violation of privacy, is at least possible and would very likely be covered by existing insurance policies,” said Passannante.

“Of course, the regulatory scheme under which BWCs are introduced would be expected to address such issues, and I would expect police departments to request certain ‘safe harbor’ provisions regarding the use of camera footage they are required to record,” he noted.

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“The most obvious benefit from wearing BWCs,” said Eugene P. Ramirez, Senior Partner at Los Angeles-based Manning & Kass, Ellrod, Ramirez, Trester LLP, “is that law enforcement will be seen as being more transparent and holding itself out as more accountable.

“The use of BWCs will also assist exonerating officers who are targets of citizens’ complaints, and, hopefully, will reduce the number of lawsuits against a department,” he said.

Steve Yahn was a freelance writer based in New York. He had more than 40 years of financial reporting and editing experience. Comments can be directed to [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]