Just days after Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office rolled out its new body cam program, a national expert offered a reminder that video footage doesn’t always tell the whole story.
State Attorney Melissa Nelson invited local media and prosecutors to a presentation by University of South Carolina law professor Seth Stoughton, a national expert on body cameras.
Showing a mix of real life and reenacted videos, he emphasized the technical and perceptual limitations of body cams as evidence.
He cautioned that while video evidence can be a great tool, it can also mislead, based on the angle or the information captured by the camera.
“It’s the belief -- for a whole bunch of reasons -- that video is inherently more comprehensive, and more accurate than any other form of evidence. I don’t think that is the case," Stoughton said. “We should be as cautious of video footage as we are of any other form of evidence."
Stoughten invited the audience to create their own videos as an exercise, noting that while they would know what was happening as the video was made, viewers would not.
Stoughten also spoke about the evolution of body and dash cam technology, initially funded with MADD dollars (designed to be a “defense killer” for drunk drivers), later expanded through DEA funding (seeking proof of search consent), and presently advanced by the Department of Justice concerns about racial profiling.
“The adoption of body cameras has been faster and deeper than of any form of technology I’m aware of in the industry,” he said. “We have information that we’ve never had before about interactions we’ve never seen before.”
But footage can be difficult to interpret without context. “They are tools, and in order to get most out of them, we need and anticipate the questions that they might raise.”
Stoughten gave a similar presentation to local police and prosecutors back in March.