Top 10 things to consider when buying body-worn cameras for medics

The widespread use of body-worn cameras by police is leading some paramedic chiefs to consider cameras for EMS personnel

By Doug Wyllie, Police1 Editor in Chief

Recording devices are ubiquitous at many emergency incidents. Cops have body-worn cameras and police cruisers with always-on dash cams. Bystanders are recording and sometimes uploading videos to social networks before the ambulance leaves the scene. Some firefighters are wearing, often with department permission, helmet cameras. But EMS provider use of a body-worn camera is still relatively rare. 

When drive cams, to capture video footage of ambulance collisions, were first introduced their was pushback from medics about being watched by "big brother." But that concern has quickly evaporated as many providers increasingly see the technology as something that can protect them from false complaints and accusations. 

The fact is, more cops than not want to have a body-worn camera — and they want it as soon as possible. 

Though there are legal and patient privacy issues to consider, here are 10 things paramedic chiefs and EMS leaders need to consider when evaluating and making a body-worn camera purchasing decision: 

1. POV (Point of View)

The Point of View from which the camera captures images may be the most critical single element of a new body-worn solution for EMS providers.

Be cognizant of how the placement of the camera either enhances (or doesn't) the field of view captured on record.

Be wary of the fact that when a camera is affixed to the middle of the chest and if you get into any sort of fighting stance, that camera may end up being pointed directly at the subject’s sneakers. The optimal placement, then, may be someplace that mimics the officer's actual line of sight.

Some areas for consideration are the brim of the ball cap, the ear-paddle of the sunglasses, or even the epaulet of the uniform, which will generally follow the EMS providers' line of sight. 

2. Comfort/Size

When it comes to the comfort and size of the device, it's a case of the lighter the better. You have to seek a balance between the total weight and size of the package with the size of the package, and its durability. (By package, we mean the the totality of what the EMS provider must carry on their person in order for the device to function).

Be wary though, that if you concentrate too much on weight, you may end up with something that breaks easily. Which leads us to ...

3. Durability/Reliability

As stated above, you have to achieve a balance here, because "rugged" sometimes equals "weight," and too much added weight for any piece of duty can create a tipping point of it never being used.

There are many examples of tremendously sturdy pieces of gear that have been left behind because they were just too cumbersome to be truly functional. Balance is key. 

Just keep in mind the total picture in terms of ease of use, not just the obvious stuff.

4. Ease of Use

Naturally, you will want easy-on, easy-off operations for the camera itself — that’s a no brainer.  But you must also consider the ease of use after the EMS provider has come back.

You want your providers spending less time back at the station and more time out on the street, so the more time-consuming and difficult the process is to download the videos, label them, manage them and store them to a central location, the less time they will have for everything else.

Just keep in mind the total picture in terms of ease-of-use, not just the obvious stuff. 

5. Back-end Data Management

This goes hand-in-hand with the previous tip. How easy and manageable it is to download, store, share, and retrieve the mountains of data collected from the camera is of critical importance.

This is not just for your providers, but for everyone in the criminal justice system.

It is absolutely imperative that prosecutors and defense attorneys have the ability to be granted permission to certain pieces of evidence at certain times, and this cannot turn into a full-time job for one of your officers — running video tapes all over town, etc. — so having an evidence management system that is easy to use, reliable and totally secure is something you should also keep in mind. 

6. Multiple Mounting Options

EMS providers need to pick the mounting option that works best for them, whether it's the hat, collar, glasses, shoulder or body. The flexibility to choose is always a benefit.

7. Price

Given the shrinking budgets in public safety these days, price has become practically paramount in any new technology purchase.

But beware: The price isn’t always the price. The price of a product includes needing to pay for possible future upgrades, replacement of parts that are not covered by warranty and other such things that often don’t come immediately to mind.

Also, watch out for hidden costs associated with things like data storage and management when that’s not part of the purchase. If you’re evaluating a product that does not have these solutions built-in, you will have to also set aside budget for the needed servers and probably a full-time employee to manage that data. You must weigh all of these factors in deciding the most suitable solution for your department.

8. Customer Support

Technology can be intimidating. It can be confusing. It can break. Body-worn cameras of today enjoy the benefits reaped in the total aggregate of technology research and development during the past several decades, but you will still, at some point, need to ask someone a question. 

Obviously, because body-worn cameras have such importance for officer safety and evidentiary value, you're going to want to have answers to questions in the most timely. Be sure to inquire what the process is for customer support. 

9. Pre-Event Capture

In the National Football League, the second player to shove another is the one who draws the penalty flag — the first to throw a blow is never seen by the referees. This happens, too, in the court of public opinion when it comes to first responder encounters.

It's universally true that the subject determines the level of force used during an incident, so in order to ensure you get the whole story on record, you will need to have the ability to capture the part of the event you were not expecting — that thing which caused the escalation in force — which very possibly happened before you had the chance to hit the record button.

10. Weather Resistance

EMS work is an all-seasons endeavor, so your body-worn video solution needs to have proven its ability to operate in your environment.

Whether your jurisdiction is the middle of Alaska or the middle of Alabama, you know what weather challenges you will face in any given year. Ask questions of your potential providers that get to the heart of the weatherman's worst nightmares in your area.

Before we close this thing out, there are a few more things to keep in mind. For example, most EMS providers know that you're going to want good low-light capability, long battery life and long recording time.

But what other decisions do you need to keep in mind when making your purchase? Add your thoughts in the comments area below.

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