Subject Matter Experts Share
Defense attorney perspective on BWCs by Seth Morris, Deputy Public Defender, Alameda County
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At a minimum, a law enforcement agency should collaborate with the prosecutor's office (city, county, state, federal, and/or tribal), the public defender and defense bar, the courts, and relevant leaders in local/tribal government (mayor, city council, city attorney, etc.).
The law enforcement agency should also engage civil rights/advocacy groups, community leaders, and residents. A number of agencies have also engaged local media in the process to educate the public, advertise the decision to adopt the technology (i.e., to demonstrate transparency), and provide a mechanism to gather feedback.
In March 2015, there were nearly 30 states considering legislation governing officer body-worn cameras (BWC), many of which mandate cameras for all law enforcement officials in the entire state. Law enforcement leaders should also engage state representatives to ensure that legislatures fully understand the issues surrounding this technology, and that they engage in thoughtful deliberations regarding BWCs. By engaging external stakeholders, the law enforcement agency can ensure that expectations about the impact of the technology are reasonable and their outcomes obtainable.
Questions from community members are likely to focus on several key issues. The first involves aspects of body-worn camera (BWC) policy. For example, community members will likely ask questions such as: when will officers turn the camera on? Do they have to tell me before they turn it on? Can I ask the officer to turn the camera off? Am I allowed to request a copy of the video?
Community members are also likely to ask privacy-related questions, such as: Are officers allowed to film in my house or apartment? What happens if the officer records my children? Who is allowed to watch the video? Is this video going to end up on the internet or YouTube? Will my neighbor be able to see this video?
Community members may also want to know about the goals of the BWC program. They may ask: Why are police officers wearing BWCs? What does the agency hope to accomplish with BWCs? Will all officers be wearing cameras? BWCs will have a significant impact on community members, and community buy-in is critical to the success of a BWC program. As a result, law enforcement agencies should be prepared to provide detailed responses to these and other questions.
Public and media requests for body-worn camera (BWC) video are governed by local, tribal and state laws. As a result, law enforcement agencies should work closely with their legal counsel on this issue. States vary tremendously in the scope of their laws governing public access to government information, including BWC video, which is generally viewed as a public record. The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) cautions agencies to balance the legitimate interest of openness with the need to protect privacy rights. For example, releasing a video that shows the inside of a person's home will likely raise privacy concerns. Also, most local, tribal and state laws have a provision that allows an agency to decline a public records request if the video is part of an ongoing investigation. PERF also cautions agencies to use their exceptions to releasing video "judiciously to avoid any suspicion by community members that police are withholding video footage to hide officer misconduct or mistakes." (PERF, 2014: 18) Departments should also provide clear reasons for why they decline to release a video.
Department policy should also specifically prohibit officers from accessing recorded data for personal use, and from uploading data to public web sites. Departments should clearly articulate the punishments for such violations (PERF, 2014).
Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Expert Panel participants further emphasized the value of having open forums to discuss BWC programs. Lieutenant Daniel Zehnder, Las Vegas (NV) Metropolitan Police Department, explained that they "hosted an extensive media day–set up scenarios and spent hours training local media on how the cameras work. We found this extremely important to build rudimentary knowledge." Matthew Scheider, Assistant Director for Research and Development at the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, suggested, "the key is for officers and policymakers to engage with the public before implementation; this engagement at the community level is critical. I encourage this group to think about the future of BWC–what does the future hold and what are the pitfalls it holds? One potential future and pitfall is facial recognition with BWC, including those in the background. The notion of FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) and access of records is important, and concerns over storage will get easier but community members will want access."
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There are limitations to body-worn cameras (BWC), and agencies should educate the public, advocacy groups, and other stakeholders regarding those limitations. BWCs may not capture every aspect of an encounter based on camera angle, focus, or lighting. For example, the camera view may be obscured when an officer moves his or her body. Footage may also not capture the entirety of an encounter. There may be different interpretations of what transpires on a video among those who view it.
There is also a relevant body of research on memory science: how officers perceive events during a high-stress critical incidents, and how they are able to accurately recall what transpired after the fact. Dr. Bill Lewinski, Executive Director of the Force Science Institute, testified before the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing regarding memory science and how such issues provide an important context for understanding the impact of BWCs. Dr. Lewinski identified 10 important limitations with BWCs that should shape our review and understanding of law enforcement behavior during critical encounters:
- A camera does not follow officers' eyes or see as they see.
- Some important danger cues cannot be recorded.
- Camera speed differs from the speed of life.
- A camera may not see as well as a human does in low light.
- An officer's body may block the view.
- A camera only records in 2-D.
- The absence of sophisticated time-stamping may prove critical.
- One camera may not be enough.
- A camera encourages second-guessing.
- A camera can never replace a thorough investigation.
A number of departments have found that engaging the community prior to deployment of body-worn cameras (BWC) has helped to generate community support. Agencies have used a number of methods to engage the public, including press releases (e.g., television, print media), the use of social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter), well-publicized demonstrations of the technology, and in-person communications with community leaders. Experiences from law enforcement executives interviewed by the Police Executive Research Forum highlight the importance of community engagement.
Community engagement was a recurrent them at the February 26-27, 2015 Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Expert Panel, including the following comments:
The deployment of a body-worn camera (BWC) program by itself cannot alter law enforcement–community relations, especially if those relationships have been characterized by long-standing tension and anger. Camera deployment cannot replace community policing. Expectations about the impact of BWCs must be reasonable, and agencies should be proactive in their discussions about the technology. The key to increasing law enforcement legitimacy, especially in minority communities, rests with ensuring procedural justice and community policing. Departments should think about BWCs in terms of achieving these two objectives.
In his testimony before the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Dr. Michael D. White of Arizona State University stated the police leaders should, "Emphasize that expectations about the impact of BWCs must be reasonable. In cities like Ferguson (MO), the relationship between police and the community is defined by long-standing anger and distrust. BWCs, on their own, cannot alter that relationship. But BWCs can represent a starting point for police to demonstrate transparency and a willingness to engage with community members. This first step is especially important in cities like Ferguson where police officers are seen as enemies and threats, rather than public servants and problem solvers."
The evidence suggesting that body-worn cameras (BWC) can reduce liability for a law enforcement agency and city is limited. It is reasonable to assume, however, that if BWCs reduce complaints against officers and officer use-of-force (as suggested by several studies), then the technology may also reduce liability risk. Several law enforcement agencies have used BWCs in a more targeted manner, by requiring officers with a history of complaints to wear the technology. Chief Chitwood of the Daytona Beach (FL) Police Department required an officer with a history of questionable complaints to wear a BWC (PERF, 2014). After several incidents in which the officer claimed that his camera had malfunctioned, the department was able to determine that the camera was turned off intentionally and the officer was subsequently fired. Chief Lansdowne, formerly of the San Diego (CA) Police Department, stated that BWC footage provides important information to investigate claims of racial profiling. "When it comes to collecting data, the raw numbers don’t always fully capture the true scope of a problem. But by capturing an audio and video account of an encounter, cameras provide an objective record of whether racial profiling took place, what patterns of officer behavior are present, and how often the problem occurs." (PERF, 2014: 8)
A number of agencies have found that the adoption of BWCs can be helpful in response to external investigations, consent decrees, and other forms of external scrutiny (PERF, 2014). Departments in Detroit (MI), New Orleans (LA), Spokane (WA), and Las Vegas (NV) have implemented BWC programs as part of agreements with the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services or the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
During the February 26-27, 2015 Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Expert Panel, Damon Mosler, Deputy District Attorney of San Diego County (CA), explained, "there is a cost or consequence of stopping tape or not recording–it may have adverse impact that could call into question officers' motives, creating civil liability for (the) department." Expounding on the liability "costs," Donald Papy, Chief Deputy City Attorney for the City of Miami Beach (FL), shared, "we defend civil claims of police misconduct and there is extraordinary value in the civil realm as well as criminal." In contemplating how much money can be saved by having BWCs, Papy offered that "many cases would not proceed if a BWC video showed what actually happened–this should be studied." Further, Papy said that "potential liability and attorney fees are a huge issue for a municipality" and then provided an example of a case that could have been dropped if BWCs had been available: "a man driving a car was being pursued and he ended up smashing into a utility pole and when the police arrived he was lying outside the passenger side of the car. He was paralyzed. He claimed he had gotten out of the car to see the damage on the passenger side and then the police beat him into paralysis. Our evidence showed the car had violently spun around causing him to be ejected, winding up on the ground outside of the passenger side and was paralyzed. If the officer had a BWC, the video would have showed the truth."
Available research consistently shows that officer body-worn cameras (BWC) contribute to a substantial and significant reduction in complaints against law enforcement officers. For example, in Rialto, CA, community member complaints against officers dropped by 88% after BWCs were deployed in the field (Ariel et al., 2014). In Mesa, AZ, BWCs were associated with a 60% decrease in complaints against law enforcement (Mesa Police Department, 2013). In Phoenix, AZ, complaints against officers who wore the cameras declined by 23%, compared to a 10.6% increase among comparison officers and 45.1% increase among patrol officers in other precincts (Katz et al., 2015).
Law enforcement executives agree that BWCs reduce complaints. Former Police Chief Ron Miller of Topeka, KS, stated, "There's absolutely no doubt that having BWCs reduces the number of complaints against officers." (PERF, 2014: 6) The reasons BWCs may cause reductions in community member complaints are not known. During the February 26-27, 2015 Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) BWC Expert Panel, Dr. Michael D. White of Arizona State University highlighted the importance of these findings and noted that the cameras may cause improved behavior ("civilizing effect"), may influence community member reporting rates (less likely to file complaints, especially frivolous complaints), or both. A number of law enforcement executives indicated that their officers have observed that BWCs discourage members of the public from filing unfounded complaints. More research is needed (especially in identifying the underlying cause of the benefit), but the consistency of the complaint reduction findings is notable.
BWCs can improve relationships between law enforcement and communities but are not a panacea, and community engagement should occur before or simultaneous to implementation. Joe Perez, President of the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association - National Capitol Region, stated during the BJA BWC Expert Panel, "in regards to building trust with communities, having a BWC isn't going to build a better relationship with the community. Relationships need to be built before putting on the camera. Just because I put on a camera doesn't mean that it's building a relationship or more trust." Kay Chopard Cohen, Executive Director of the National District Attorneys Association, stated, "If a chief is worried about community relationships, then the chief has to do more than just give an officer a camera. He or she needs to go out and engage the community." Michael Kurtenbach of the Phoenix (AZ) Police Department added, "Develop relationships with the community on the front-end because it's too late to try to make those connections after an incident."
Also during the BWC Expert Panel, Inspector Steve Goodier of the Hampshire Constabulary in the United Kingdom shared highlights from their yearlong study of 180 body-worn videos citing reductions in crime, police-generated incidents, and assaults against police officers. Inspector Goodier further explained that "a large-scale public opinion survey was done before and after program implementation that concluded 85% of the public support for BWC technology. This survey was complemented by an officer survey–an overwhelming positive for support for BWCs.""
For more information, see:
A number of legal and policy issues might influence this decision. In some states, for example, an officer is allowed to continue to record even if a person requests that the officer turn off the camera, if the encounter occurs in a public setting; but the officer is not permitted to continue to record in an individual’s private dwelling unless permission is granted to the officer. Before creating a policy, law enforcement agencies must check with the agency and legal counsel on the applicable state, local, and tribal law on consent to record.
In general, however, officers wearing a body-worn camera (BWC) should be sensitive to the privacy and dignity of those who are being recorded, and should stop recording when requested if privacy concerns outweigh the legitimate interests of law enforcement. If an officer decides to turn off their BWC based on the person’s request, they should first record the request to discontinue recording, and then verbally state that they are turning off the camera out of consideration to that request. These statements should be captured by the BWC prior to turning off the BWC system.
There is no evidence suggesting that body-worn cameras (BWC) have a negative impact on law enforcement–community relationships. However, a number of executives expressed concerns during their interviews with the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). For example, Bob Cherry, the former President of the Baltimore City (MD) Fraternal Order of Police said, "Trust builds through relationships, and body-worn cameras start from a position of mistrust."
Officers in several other agencies noted that BWCs can hurt intelligence-gathering opportunities, as members of the public will be less likely to provide information if they know they will be recorded. Some law enforcement executives disagreed with this claim, pointing out that BWCs in and of themselves are not responsible for an agency’s relationship with the community.
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Results from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) surveys of law enforcement executives demonstrate that a number of agencies have engaged with their residents in a positive way regarding the deployment of body-worn cameras (BWC). A number of departments have used adoption of BWCs as an opportunity to demonstrate transparency to the community. Numerous experts strongly recommend engaging in dialogue with members of the public about BWCs before the technology is deployed on the street. Chief Farrar of the Rialto (CA) Police Department stated, "You have to engage the public before the cameras hit the street. You have to tell people what the cameras are going to be used for, how everyone can benefit from them." (PERF, 2014: 21) Other agencies, such as the Los Angeles (CA) Police Department, have solicited community input regarding the development of their administrative policy, and many agencies have used social media to engage residents on the technology.
The February 25-26, 2015 Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Expert Panel participants emphasized that BWC programs are only one piece of the puzzle, offering the following thoughts:
Collaborating on a body-worn camera (BWC) policy among all interested parties from a county ensures that all parties follow the same policies and evidence retention schedule. Regional collaboration would establish consistent processes from law enforcement to the district attorney. Santa Clara County, CA, collaborated on a model policy that involved the county law enforcement agencies, the district attorney, and the California Highway Patrol. This BWC model policy serves as an effective example of county-wide collaboration. However, such collaborative efforts might be more difficult in other jurisdictions and result in long delays in BWC implementation. Communities need to weigh the costs and benefits of collaboration and determine the best course of action for their jurisdiction over the short-, medium-, and long-term.
Law enforcement agencies will benefit from a public education campaign that is focused on increasing public awareness of the body-worn camera (BWC) program, the goals for the program (why the agency has adopted the cameras), and what to expect in terms of benefits and challenges. The public education campaign can be part of a larger effort by the agency to demonstrate transparency and to improve outcomes with the community. The local media can be an important partner in the public education campaign, through print, radio, and television reporting on the BWC program. Decisions about how much information to provide and how to provide it (web site, public service announcements, media reporting, etc.) should be made locally.
Several participants of the Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Expert Panel shared their community outreach efforts. Michael Wagers, Chief Operating Officer of the Seattle (WA) Police Department, explained Seattle took three months to rewrite its BWC policy because it posted the policy publically to seek input from stakeholders. Wagers emphasized the significant value in this approach, "We had an agreement with the police union and included them in the policy development process–we ended up using a lot of input from external stakeholders as well." Inspector Steve Goodier of the Hampshire Constabulary in the United Kingdom suggested a pre- and post-survey of both the community and officers, explaining that it was wonderful to have the data to demonstrate internal and external support of BWCs ("85% support among the public support as well as overwhelming positive support from officers").
There has been little research conducted on the effect of body-worn cameras (BWC) on criminal prosecutions. In Phoenix, AZ, researchers found that domestic violence cases involving a camera-wearing officer were more likely to be initiated by the prosecutor’s office (40.9% vs. 34.3%), have charges filed (37.7% vs. 26%), have cases furthered (12.7% vs. 6.2%), result in a guilty plea (4.4% vs. 1.2%), and result in a guilty verdict at trial (4.4% vs. 0.9%) (Katz et al., 2015).
The Plymouth (England) Head Camera Project reported that the technology increased officers’ ability to document that a violent crime had occurred, and the incidents recorded by BWCs were more likely to be resolved through guilty pleas rather than criminal trials (Goodall, 2007). In Renfrewshire, Scotland, BWC cases were 70-80% more likely to result in a guilty plea, compared to other court cases. A more recent report from Essex, Scotland, that focused specifically on domestic abuse calls also found that criminal charges were more likely to be filed in cases where an officer was wearing a BWC (Owens et al., 2014).
Anecdotal evidence from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) interviews of law enforcement executives (PERF, 2014) also suggests that BWCs may affect prosecution of cases through improved evidence collection. Chief Parker of the Dalton (GA) Police Department reported that BWCs have enhanced evidence collection at accident scenes, as officers work to secure a scene, interview witnesses and victims, and provide emergency medical care as needed. Several chiefs also indicated that BWCs are useful in domestic violence cases when it is difficult for a victim to participate. In these cases, BWC policies regarding victims, to include children and other vulnerable persons, must be carefully crafted.
For more information, see:
Each department must fully examine its state, local, and tribal laws to determine when it is lawful to record events. Most communities, however, fall into one of two groups.
The first group is composed of those communities that require one-party consent. In these communities it is lawful to record communication when consent is obtained from one person (e.g., officer, suspect, or victim). Within these laws, there might already be exceptions that would cover body-worn cameras (BWC). Nonetheless, in these communities, it is up to law enforcement to determine whether they inform the individual of the recording. The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) recommends that officers inform members of the public that they are being recorded "unless doing so would be unsafe, impractical, or impossible," (PERF, 2014: 40). PERF emphasizes that this does not mean that they are required to have consent to record, only that they inform the person that they are recording. The rationale for this is straightforward. If BWCs do produce benefits in terms of change in behavior (civilizing effect), those benefits can only be realized if the community member is aware of the recording.
The second group are those communities that require two-party consent. This means that it is not legal to record the interaction unless both parties consent to it being recorded. As stated above, there might also be exceptions within these laws that may cover BWC recordings. Two-party consent laws can present special problems to law enforcement agencies that are interested in implementing a BWC program because the law enforcement officers have to announce that they would like to record the interaction and obtain approval from the member of the public. As a consequence, some states such as Pennsylvania have successfully modified existing statutes to allow the law enforcement to use BWCs without two-part consent (Mateescu, Rosenblat and Boyd, 2015).
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Law enforcement–community member encounters are transactional events, with each participant making decisions and responding to the decisions of the other participant. As a result, use-of-force by a law enforcement officer is the culmination of a series of earlier actions and reactions. However, review of force incidents traditionally ignores earlier stages of an encounter and focuses entirely on the final-frame decision (called the split-second syndrome). Body-worn cameras (BWC) represent an opportunity to overcome the split-second syndrome because the technology can allow for a full review of all actions made by the officer during an encounter, from start to finish. For example, BWCs can help answer questions such as:
- How did the officer act early on in the encounter that deescalated or escalated the potential for violence?
- Upon review of the video, is there anything the officer might have missed that would have resolved the encounter differently?
"BWCs represent an opportunity to overcome the split-second syndrome because the technology can provide a permanent video record of the entire police–community member encounter. BWCs allow for a full review of all decisions made by the officer during an encounter, from start to finish. Did the officer make decisions early on in the encounter that escalated the potential for violence? Did the officer miss opportunities to resolve the encounter peacefully? BWCs can facilitate a comprehensive review of forceful encounters to determine why they ended in violence; and to identify best practices for resolving encounters peacefully."
Maggie Goodrich, Los Angeles (CA) Police Department, and Kay Chopard Cohen, National District Attorneys Association, offered related thoughts in the February 26-27, 2015 Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Expert Panel. Goodrich explained, "the purpose of BWCs is the collection of evidence and to determine what really happened." Chopard Cohen asserted, "criminal investigations today are so much more complex than years ago. We did not have the same techniques before. There was no DNA, just a few eyewitnesses. Today we have lots of corroboration. We need to weigh civil liability with requirements for civil prosecution and balance those so we are looking out for both sides in any cases. From a prosecutor's prospective, we need to worry about victim safety and confidentiality. We need to worry about safety of innocent bystanders. BWCs add a layer of complexity; we want to see what happened, but sometimes when an officer responds, it is not right for public viewing. There are situations where we have to educate the public and legislatures that this should not be available for public viewing. We need to be the protector of that and uphold the Constitution to make complexities work."
In Rialto, CA, there were 61 use-of-force incidents before deployment of body-worn cameras (BWC) and just 25 incidents after deployment (a 60% drop). Additionally, "control" work shifts (officers who were not wearing cameras) produced double the number of use-of-force incidents compared to "treatment" shifts (camera-wearing officers) during the same period. The study in Mesa, AZ, also found significant reductions in use-of-force among officers wearing cameras, but in Phoenix, AZ, there was no significant difference in use-of-force incidents among camera-wearing and non-camera-wearing officers. Much more research needs to be conducted to determine whether BWCs reduce use-of-force by law enforcement. In addition, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services Implementation Guide emphasizes that BWCs produce benefits in terms of change in behavior (civilizing effect), but those benefits can only be realized if the community member is aware of the recording.
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Dashboard cameras are fixed to law enforcement vehicles, therefore only capturing video from the front of the vehicle. Some dashboard cameras allow for audio recording near the law enforcement vehicle. Body-worn cameras (BWCs) retain the strengths of the dashboard camera, but they allow the technology to accompany the officer wherever he or she goes. In some instances, using BWCs and dashboard cameras together can be beneficial, documenting an event from two different perspectives.
BWCs are different from close-circuit television systems (CCTV). CCTVs are stationary systems that record behavior in a given public space. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe of the London Metropolitan Police Service highlights the core differences between BWCs and CCTVs: "In London we have CCTVs, which are quite extensive and becoming even more so, but the distinction is that those cameras don’t listen to your conversations. They observe behavior and see what people do and cover public space, so you can see if there is a crime being committed. But CCTVs don’t generally seek out individuals." (PERF, 2014: 11)
For additional information, see Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), Implementing a Body-Worn Camera Program: Recommendations and Lessons Learned:http://www.justice.gov/iso/opa/resources/472014912134715246869.pdf
There is potential to integrate body-worn cameras (BWC) with facial recognition systems. The use of facial recognition and BWCs may pose serious risks to public privacy. Agencies that explore this integration should proceed very cautiously and should consult with legal counsel and other relevant stakeholders.
The technology consists of the camera, which is typically worn on the officer's uniform (placed optionally on the shoulder lapel, sunglasses, or hat), with a forward-facing viewable area. When thinking about the mounting location, an agency should consider the uniform types worn by officers and how uniforms may vary throughout the year (summer, winter). Additional accessories may be required to ensure the camera is properly positioned, securely attached and protected to support the officer and his or her unique mission.
There are a number of different types of camera with differing options, including user controls such as push to record, touch-screen controls, video and audio feed, and playback in field. The video evidence is uploaded through a docking station on a local storage device (e.g., server) or through an online web-based digital media storage platform where the evidence can be encrypted and managed. Some models also allow for video upload while in the field.
At the February 26-27, 2015, Bureau of Justice Assistance Body-Worn Camera Expert Panel convening, Donna Twyford of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection shared a warning that "cameras with lots of options are not always beneficial-they may simply just present more items that can be lost or broken." During those same discussions, Maggie Goodrich of the Los Angeles (CA) Police Department (LAPD) explained it is important to critically look at and transparently share equipment capabilities. In the LAPD, "there was an officer evaluation–if the vendor said that the camera did A, B, and C, we tested it to prove it. We conducted reviews of different mounts and evaluated video and audio quality. It was a fully transparent process we found that it was critical to receive input from those who would ultimately wear the cameras."
Departments vary in how they have implemented body-worn camera (BWC) programs. However, there are two common themes.
First, the vast majority of departments have implemented their BWC programs with officers assigned to patrol. The rationale for deploying the technology with front-line patrol officers is that officers on patrol have the most contact with the public. Some departments have also expanded their use of BWCs beyond patrol into specialized units such as K-9, SWAT, specialized driving under the influence teams, and investigations.
Second, many departments have adopted an incremental approach to deployment by restricting use to a small number of officers for an initial pilot period. Departments have found that this type of approach helps to overcome potential officer anxiety and resistance and enables a department to make mid-term revisions as it learns how this technology affects the community as a whole. Such a strategy also allows other units in the department the time to adapt to the new technology. In many cases, the initial group of officers assigned to wear cameras are volunteers who often become "internal champions" for the technology.
Lindsay Miller from the Police Executive Research Forum stated, "The decision to implement a BWC program should not be entered lightly–once implemented it is hard to scale back from that course. Agencies need to thoughtfully examine the idea of a BWC program and have written policies in place (something not all agencies do)."
The answer to this question depends on how you measure officer daily practices.
With regard to paperwork, the research is mixed. In Plymouth, England, body-worn cameras (BWC) led to quicker resolution of cases, which produced a 22.4% reduction in officer time devoted to paperwork and file preparation; and to a 9.2% increase in officer time spent on patrol (an extra 50 minutes per nine-hour shift) (Goodall, 2007). But in Victoria, Canada, and in Phoenix, AZ, officers spent significantly more time on paperwork following the deployment of BWCs (Laur et al., 2010; Katz et al., 2015).
With respect to evidentiary quality, research conducted in Plymouth and Essex, United Kingdom; Victoria, Canada; and Phoenix, AZ, suggests that the use of BWCs increases the quality of evidence (Goodall, 2007; Laur et al., 2010; Owens et al., 2014; Katz et al., 2015). Related to these results, in Phoenix researchers reported that domestic violence incidents where an officer was wearing a BWC were more likely to result in charging and conviction. Specifically, they found that when compared to non-camera cases, camera cases were more likely to be initiated by the prosecutor’s office (40.9% vs. 34.3%), have charges filed (37.7% vs. 26%), have cases furthered (12.7% vs. 6.2%), result in a guilty plea (4.4% vs. 1.2%), and result in a guilty verdict at trial (4.4% vs. 0.9%) (Katz et al., 2015).
If officer performance is measured by the number of contacts with members of the public, the evidence is limited. In Rialto, CA, there was an increase in the number of contacts between law enforcement and the public after BWCs were deployed in the field (3,178 more contacts after BWC deployments, compared to the prior year) (Ariel, et al. 2014). We do not know why there was this increase but intend to do further research to find out if an increase is consistent with what is happening with other departments and why.
More generally, a number of law enforcement executives interviewed indicated that they had used BWCs to identify and address larger structural issues in their department and to develop solutions to those problems. This includes weaknesses in training, policy, and law enforcement officer field behavior (e.g., using video footage to investigate racial profiling) (PERF, 2014).
For more information, see:
Body-worn cameras (BWC) are only one of the tools available to law enforcement for improving community trust, transparency, and accountability. There are several benefits for law enforcement officers who wear BWCs. BWCs provide an additional layer of safety for the officer. Adoption of a BWC program can represent a law enforcement department's effort to demonstrate transparency and accountability. In several studies, community member complaints against officers decreased following adoption of BWCs (Katz et al., 2015; Ariel, Farrar, & Sutherland, 2014; Mesa Police Department, 2013). The results from these studies are supported by in-person interviews with 40 law enforcement executives conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). In one study, use-of-force by law enforcement officers decreased following adoption of BWCs (Ariel, Farrar, & Sutherland, 2014). Continuing research seeks to identify the underlying cause of the benefits. Additionally, video from BWCs may assist with prosecution of criminal cases or assist in the review of community members' complaints against officers. While research in Great Britain supports this potential evidentiary benefit, research in the United States has not sufficiently investigated the evidentiary value of BWCs (Goodall, 2007).
During the February 26-27, 2015 Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Expert Panel, Inspector Steve Goodier of the Hampshire Constabulary in the United Kingdom shared highlights from their yearlong study of 180 body-worn videos. He cited reductions in crime, police-generated incidents, and assaults against police officers. The Inspector further explained "a large-scale public opinion survey was done before and after program implementation that concluded 85% of the public support for BWC technology. This survey was complemented by an officer survey–an overwhelming positive for support for BWCs."
For additional information, see:
The decision by a law enforcement agency to implement a body-worn camera (BWC) program represents an enormous investment of time and resources. The following are some of the concerns related to BWC programs:
- Buying the hardware and managing the data: In January 2015, the acting Chief of the Phoenix (AZ) Police Department announced that it would cost the department $3.5 million to outfit its 3,000 officers with body-worn cameras and manage the BWC program. Overall, the costs vary depending on the type of camera, type of storage, IT support, and use of video. Agencies have been able to save money by joining with other agencies to purchase cameras and storage.
- Privacy considerations: Privacy rights of the public are a primary concern. BWCs have the potential to impinge on community members' expectation of privacy. The technology may also present concerns for vulnerable populations such as children and victims of crime. Law enforcement agencies should fully investigate state privacy laws and engage relevant stakeholder groups (e.g., victim advocacy groups) before adopting BWCs. Officer privacy should also be addressed. Some law enforcement unions have opposed BWCs, arguing that adoption of the technology must be negotiated as part of the collective bargaining agreement. Also, at the February 26-27, 2015 Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Expert Panel, some of the audience expressed concerns about BWCs because the technology gives supervisors the opportunity to go on "fishing expeditions" against officers in their command. Discussions among law enforcement executives and line officers are an important aspect of the policy development for implementing a BWC program.
- Prosecution: Prosecutors and defense attorneys will want to review BWC video related to their cases, but they too have an obligation to protect the privacy of community members captured in the video. Therefore, it is important that the impact on prosecutorial and defense bar resources is taken into account when implementing a BWC program.
- Policy development: During the BWC Expert Panel, participants shared very specific concerns and examples about BWC policy. For instance, Maggie Goodrich of the Los Angeles Police Department discussed her agency's concerns about ensuring officers always consider safety first and not put themselves in danger because of any additional distraction caused by the cameras. Assistant Chief Michael Kurtenbach of the Phoenix (AZ) Police Department walked through an example of a video used in a prosecution that resulted in an assault conviction of the officer. Triggered by the egregious behavior in the video, the agency reviewed three months of prior video to discover a pattern of inappropriate behavior. Upon the officer’s termination, the police union expressed concerns about evaluation of prior video, because the department had said it would not use video for administrative purposes. Kurtenbach suggested this illustrates the need for thoughtful consideration of policies even though, in this example, "once the videos were seen everyone agreed the officer should be fired."
- Training considerations: Law enforcement agencies should plan for additional training on camera use, video review, and video expungement and redaction.
- Advocacy considerations: Cynthia Pappas from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention reminded BWC Expert Panel participants that "95% of youth and juveniles commit non-violent offenses so there should be great precautions made to protect them, including protections from public screening" of the video. Krista Blakeney-Mitchell from the Office on Violence Against Women went on to describe how victim confidentiality should be addressed during a call for assistance for domestic violence. If an officer is entering the home of a domestic violence victim, the victim is exposed. "We need to consider how that plays out later in recordings. Will the video be used against the victim based on her demeanor near the time of the incident? Will she be re-victimized?" Another concern is the use of BWCs when dealing with sexual assault victims and the need to decide how video will be used in these situations. Lastly, Blakeney-Mitchell explained that it is "hard for victims to come forward when everyone will know their story based on video footage…there is a concern that victim reporting will go down."
The acquisition, implementation, and use of body-worn camera (BWC) video in state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies can be a costly and complex process. This toolkit was developed by the Bureau of Justice Assistance in partnership with an expert panel of criminal justice practitioners with BWC experience to provide law enforcement agencies with the resources necessary to implement officer BWCs in an efficient, equitable, and effective way. This toolkit seeks to help you become familiar with a broad array of considerations to include:
- Defining concrete steps to follow for successful planning and implementation of a BWC program.
- Identifying personnel and internal organizational challenges to an agency when implementing a BWC initiative, to include training and labor management considerations.
- Discussing technical issues associated with the implementation of BWCs.
- Assessing the impact of BWCs and the evidence they collect on a law enforcement agency and the entire criminal justice system, including courts, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and victims.
- Recognizing privacy and legal issues as they relate to members of the public, a law enforcement agency, and the accused.
There is little empirical evidence on the impact of body-worn cameras (BWC) on community member complaint investigations. In Phoenix, AZ, researchers reported that camera-wearing officers who received a complaint were significantly less likely to have the complaint sustained, compared to non-camera-wearing officers and other patrol officers (Katz et al., 2015). Evidence from the United Kingdom also suggests that BWCs may result in quicker investigation of community member complaints against law enforcement (Goodall, 2007). The video evidence may also be used to provide members of the public with additional information that helps them understand the law enforcement officer’s behavior during a particular encounter (e.g., educational value). Legal scholar David Harris stated, "If citizens can see that they were, perhaps, mistaken, or that they did not understand the situation from the officer’s point of view, or that they did not have all the facts, they may come away with a better grasp of the situation, and feeling that they need not continue with the complaint process." (Harris, 2010: 7)
There is also some evidence to suggest that BWCs can assist with the investigation of critical incidents, including officer-involved shootings. Former Chief of Police Miller of the Topeka (KS) Police Department stated that a local district attorney cleared one of his officers of any wrongdoing during a critical incident after reviewing the BWC footage of the deadly shooting (PERF, 2014).
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Law enforcement agencies should consult with their local prosecutors and legal counsel as they design their data storage policies. Laws governing how long video must be stored may vary across cities, tribal governments, and states. Video that depicts an arrest or critical incident may have to be stored for an extended period of time. Departments have varied policies on how long they keep video that depicts an encounter where no formal action is taken. Some departments will store such video as long as a community member can file a complaint. For example, if members of the public can file a complaint for up to six months after an encounter with a law enforcement officer, it may be necessary to keep all video for six months so the video can be accessed to assist with the complaint investigation. State law may dictate the length of time for storage of more formal law enforcement encounters with members of the public. These are important issues that law enforcement agencies should discuss with their prosecuting authority before procuring storage systems or enacting any policies regarding storage.
Some departments classify body-worn camera video as either "evidentiary" or "non-evidentiary." Evidentiary video includes footage that can be used for investigative purposes, and many departments have created sub-classification systems of types of videos (homicide, use-of-force, arrest, mental health commitment, etc.). The length of time a video is retained is then typically determined by how the video is classified (evidentiary or non-evidentiary) and, if evidentiary, the type of encounter.
Many of those surveyed by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) retain non-evidentiary video for 60-90 days. Regardless, retention times should be specifically stated in department policy, as should the process for data deletion. As an indicator of transparency, many departments publicly post their retention policies on their web site.
The PERF report (PERF, 2014) also identifies a number of data storage issues that should be covered by policy and put in place:
- The policy should clearly prohibit data tampering, editing, or copying.
- There should be technological protections against tampering.
- The department should have an auditing system in place that documents who accesses each video, when the access occurs, and why.
- The policy should identify who has authority to access video.
- Departments should develop a reliable back-up system for video.
- Law enforcement should provide guidance on when officers should download video (e.g., at the end of the shift).
- The policy should be explicit about the use of third-party vendors.
While there has been little research about this issue, it is clear that an agency needs to carefully consider its policy options with respect to the release of video that may contain sensitive footage. As agencies develop body-worn camera policies, they need to be mindful of the impact of the video release on victims, suspects, police officers, businesses, witnesses, family members, and the investigation and prosecution of the case. In the absence of clear policy, the release of sensitive video might be left to the discretion of an administrator or a redaction specialist on a case-by-case basis.