By Jacob Osojnak
If you want to know why I started wearing a body camera anytime I serve someone legal papers, I’d probably blame it on being an early bird. I’m usually up by 5:30 a.m. and am tapping my toes and ready for work around 7:00 a.m. As a licensed PI and process server, I’ve found that weekday mornings are usually a great time to make contact with defendants.
Unfortunately, defendants aren’t always thrilled to have someone knocking on their door at 7:30 a.m.
One fateful morning, I was serving my first papers of the day — a foreclosure notice in a middle class neighborhood near my own. When I arrived at the service address, I noticed cars in the driveway and a few lights on inside, so I went ahead and knocked. I was pretty sure that people were home, as I heard movement inside. But after knocking multiple times with no answer, I headed off to my next addresses.
My suspicions that people were home were confirmed when I received a call on my cell phone about half an hour later. It was a deputy with the county sheriff’s office asking whether I’d been at X address earlier that morning. I said yes, I had been there to serve legal papers.
The deputy told me the residents had reported me to the sheriff’s office. They claimed to have seen me walking all around the house and peeking in every window. Well, that part was dead wrong, as I told the deputy. I had never left the front porch of the house and was certainly not peeking in windows.
The officer reminded me that if I had done these things, I had broken the law. And then he thanked me for my time. I hung up with am uneasy feeling in my stomach. Law enforcement had gotten involved in a “he said, she said” story, and I had no way of proving that I was innocent.
That afternoon, I ordered my very first body camera: a Transcend DrivePro Body 20, and I’ve been wearing it ever since.
How to Use It
The mechanics of the body camera are simple. It attaches to my belt, jacket, or body armor with an alligator clip. To turn it on, I simply press and hold down one button. Holding down the same button again turns the camera off.
Video can be downloaded to my computer via USB cable, and the file names can be changed to whatever I like. (I change them to the job number in my service of process management software). I then save the file to my hard drive. Since data is cheap, I plan on archiving the videos for years to come.
Why to Use It
The way I see it, wearing a body camera while serving process accomplishes two goals: First, as above, it reduces the chances of being accused of unprofessional/inappropriate/illegal behavior. Second, it acts as additional proof of service in case of a Motion to Quash.
It can also help document other issues with service. For example, I had a client recently who needed a defendant personally served for a case. The defendant was Eastern European, and the name wasn’t obviously male or female to me. When I went to the service address, a female answered the door. I asked if she was defendant X. She said “yes,” and I served her the papers.
The defendant never showed up for court, so an Alias Summons was issued. When I went back a second time, a male answered the door. I asked for defendant X, and he said “I think he’s in back.” Obviously that struck me as weird. I went to the backyard and found the female I served the first time. When I asked if she was “defendant X,” she said, “No, that’s my husband” and went into the house to get him. He came out and I served him the papers.
Needless to say, the attorney wasn’t happy when I let him know that I hadn’t served the correct person the first time. But he was completely understanding after I sent him a copies of three videos:
- The original service video with the female stating that she was defendant X;
- the later video where the same female said the defendant was her husband, and finally ...
- the husband accepting service and confirming that he was the defendant.
Legal and Ethical Questions
Are there legal and ethical issues regarding the use of body cameras? Of course. I would advise anyone thinking about using a body camera to check with an attorney familiar with the laws of your state to confirm that there are no issues with use of body cameras by civilians.
Other ways to mitigate risk include:
- Wear your body camera so that it is visible to people you interact with. This isn’t covert surveillance.
- Tell the truth if someone asks whether they’re being recorded.
- If invited into a home, let the person know that you’ll be filming with a body camera inside of the home, and get their verbal permission to do so before stepping inside.
In conclusion, here’s what I would recommend to anyone who wants to graduate from being a process server to a PROFESSIONAL process server: Think about buying and using a body camera on a regular basis. They are affordable and easy to use, and the video you record just may make the difference between a Motion to Quash and a successful serve.
Even if there’s a one in a million chance you’ll need the video, that video will be worth $1,000,000 when you really need it.
About the author:
Jacob Osojnak is a licensed private detective in Illinois and Michigan. He is also an Illinois Concealed Carry license holder and NRA Certified Range Safety Office and has written about concealed carry issues for the Illinois Association of Professional Process Servers (ILAPPS). He is a graduate of Michigan State University and has been serving legal papers since 2001.