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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)
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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:
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."
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.""
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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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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."
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)."
In May 2015, Department of Justice Today announced a $20 million Body-Worn Camera (BWC) Pilot Partnership Program to respond to the immediate needs of local and tribal law enforcement organizations. The investment includes $17 million in competitive grants for the purchase of BWCs, $2 million for training and technical assistance, and $1 million for the development of evaluation tools to study best practices. The pilot program is part of President Obama’s proposal to invest $75 million over three years to purchase 50,000 BWCs for law enforcement agencies.
Administered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, under the Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs (OJP), the BWC Pilot Partnership Program will provide support to help law enforcement agencies develop, implement, and evaluate BWC programs across the United States.
The Justice Department expects to provide 50 awards to law enforcement agencies, with about one-third of the grants directed toward smaller law enforcement agencies. The grants, which require a 50/50 in-kind or cash match, can be used to purchase equipment, but applicants must establish a strong plan for BWC implementation and a robust training policy before purchasing cameras. The long-term costs associated with storing this information will be the financial responsibility of each local agency.
Another $2 million will fund a national BWC training and technical assistance provider through a competitive process. This training and technical assistance will provide support to law enforcement agencies to successfully develop and implement their BWC programs.
OJP's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) will receive $1 million of the funds to collect data on BWC usage through surveys of law enforcement agencies. BJS will also design data collection forms that can be used in future surveys of prosecutors and defense attorneys to measure how BWC footage is being used by the courts in criminal cases.
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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.
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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.
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There are significant concerns regarding the recording of interviews with crime victims and other vulnerable populations (e.g., children and the mentally ill). Victims of crime have experienced a traumatic event and law enforcement officers should be sensitive to the possibility that recording their interaction with the victim may exacerbate that trauma. The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) report (PERF, 2014) recommends that officers always obtain consent to record interviews with crime victims and that consent should be recorded by the body-worn camera (BWC) or obtained in writing. Officers should also be aware of the laws governing the recording of interviews with juveniles, which may vary from laws governing adults. Officers may require additional training regarding the recording of interviews with vulnerable populations.
Participants in the February 26-27, 2015 Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Expert Panel discussed the understandable fears victims express about the public release of their recorded statements. Damon Mosler, Deputy District Attorney of San Diego (CA) County, suggested those concerns are broader than one may initially consider. "Most policies record all law enforcement activities, but you will capture confidential, biographical, and financial data of victims and witnesses. What are victim impacts for juveniles being recorded? What about informants caught on tape? Ancillary bystanders–when you have multiple officers responding, you have different tapes. Some may shut off, some may not." Panel participants also discussed the fear victims may have about how the video could be used against them.
Further illustrating the complexity of this issue, Maggie Goodrich from the Los Angeles (CA) Police Department shared that during discussions with victims' rights advocates, the LAPD found that "some want recordings–such as when a victim is being interviewed by an expert in a rape treatment center, yet some are concerned that victims' memories right after trauma is initially fuzzy and may become clearer over time, and prosecutors don't necessarily want two different statements."
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- Capital outlay. This can include the number of BWCs, mounting kits, tablets, field viewers, and docking stations.
- Operational costs. Data storage, software, and redaction costs are included in this category as well as costs associated with officer BWC administration (download time, reviewing video) and any efforts required to track and provide the video to the courts.
- Replacement costs. This is related to repairs, upgrades to next-generation technology, warranties, and replacements.
In addition to the hardware and data storage costs, departments have identified other expenses. For example, "Many agencies appoint at least one full-time officer to manage the camera program. Agencies must provide ongoing training programs, ensure that cameras are properly maintained, fix technical problems, and address any issues of officer noncompliance." (PERF, 2014: 32)
The costs of managing a BWC program are extensive and must be considered long-term. Weighing costs has helped departments place principled limitations on their program. This analysis should be part of the implementation design and discussion with other criminal justice officials and the community at large. Considerations may include:
- Limiting the types of encounters that must be recorded.
- Adopting shorter data-retention time periods.
- Seeking private funding to support the program.
- Developing other storage options for videos that must be kept for longer periods of time (e.g., saving critical incidents to a separate internal drive or to a disk).
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There are a large variety of body-worn cameras (BWC) available for use by law enforcement. They vary by a number of things, including battery life length, event marking, weight, camera placement, camera size, quality of video, vision type (day or day/night), field of view, playback capacity, charge time, pre-event recording, law enforcement radio interface, video and audio format, video safeguards, download capability, and cost. In March 2014, the National Institute of Justice published a market survey that examined BWC vendors across a range of categories, including location of the camera mount, recording capabilities, evidentiary safeguards, tracking features (e.g., chain of custody), and video management.
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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.
Agencies have varied considerably in the content and structure of their department policies. Many agencies have made their policies publicly available, or they will furnish their policy upon request. A number of policies have been collected by the Bureau of Justice Assistance and are available in this toolkit. In addition, there are currently several model policies available for review. The International Association of Chiefs of Police has devised a model policy. The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) report (PERF, 2014) also includes a number of policy recommendations. In the United Kingdom, policy resources are available through a United Kingdom Home Office report (Goodall, 2007).
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This toolkit is community-sourced. That is, most of the material in this clearinghouse was contributed by your colleagues representing various disciplines from across the country and the world, and it is available for your use, education, and consideration. If you use content from the toolkit, we only ask that you attribute the material to the web site or the original author of the material. This toolkit does not endorse any one resource but asks you to evaluate the appropriate resources for your communities’ needs as you work your way through the National Body-Worn Camera Toolkit Law Enforcement Implementation Checklist. And, if you have something to contribute, just e-mail us at email@example.com.
There is currently no evidence from the United States documenting any sort of health and safety risks associated with body-worn cameras. The United Kingdom Home Office guide provides a comprehensive list of potential hazards to officers who wear head-mounted cameras, rates the risk level for each hazard, and discusses strategies to mitigate risk. Many of the hazards are deemed to be low-risk, such as being targeted for assault because of the camera, neck injury from the weight of the camera, and electrical shock. However, several hazards are rated as medium-risk, such as strangulation with the lead (or wire) by an offender; head injury through impact of the camera by an assailant; and soreness, discomfort, and headache from the headband. Most of the cited health concerns are mitigated by wearing the camera on other parts of the uniform (e.g., the torso, not the head). The lack of evidence regarding the health and safety concerns does not mean there are no risks. Departments should explore potential risks as they adopt the technology.
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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 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."
As agencies consider the formal adoption of body-worn cameras (BWC), some officers may choose to purchase and wear their own personal BWCs, or an officer may wish to do so if any agency does not deploy cameras to its entire force of sworn personnel. The decision to allow officers to wear personally owned devices should be made locally, but both the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and a number of law enforcement executives have expressed concern with self-purchase of BWCs. Such cameras are a potential problem because the data recorded by a personal BWC is not owned by the law enforcement agency. Moreover, there may be insufficient protections in place for proper storage and safeguarding of the video (e.g., tampering, chain of custody). PERF specifically recommends that officers be prohibited from carrying their own privately owned cameras on duty. Officers who utilize personally owned technology may have this technology seized and examined and be subject to extensive review (of personal and professional data, video, photos, etc.), which could be used to impeach the officer in legal proceedings.
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The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) has dedicated $2 million to fund two or three body-worn camera (BWC) projects as part of the Smart Policing Initiative in fiscal year 2015. As part of President Obama's Community Policing Initiative, $20 million is available to support BWC purchases and programs in fiscal year 2015. The President has proposed an additional $30 million in the fiscal year 2016 budget. Finally, the BJA Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) is a valuable resource for communities to use to procure this equipment.
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Members of the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Body-Worn Camera (BWC) Expert Panel provided guidance on the development of the BWC Toolkit. This panel was composed of law enforcement leaders, experienced practitioners, and national policy leaders from across the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada. Dr. Charles M. Katz and Dr. Michael D. White of Arizona State University provided BJA with expert assistance in developing this toolkit.
The Department of Justice makes no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the contents of this site, and expressly disclaims liability for errors and omissions in the contents of this site. The information appearing on this site is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal advice to any individual or entity. We urge you to consult with your own legal advisor before taking any action based on information appearing in this toolkit.
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).
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There are a handful of useful resources on body-worn cameras (BWC). The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office published a report in 2014 that examines key issues and offers policy recommendations. The report is based on survey responses from 254 agencies, interviews with 40 law enforcement executives who have implemented BWCs, and outcomes from a one-day conference held on September 11, 2013, that included more than 200 law enforcement executives, scholars, and experts. In April 2014, the Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center published a report that describes the core issues surrounding the technology and examines the state of research on those issues (White, 2014). In March 2014, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) published a market survey that compared BWC vendors across a range of categories. There is also a growing number of published evaluations that examine the implementation, impact, and consequences of body-worn cameras. This web site and toolkit is intended to be a clearinghouse of the latest available research, reports, and knowledge on the technology.
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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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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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It is important to have the prosecutor's office at the table when developing a policy to have consistency across agencies that will be bringing cases to that prosecutor's office. The evidence gathered from body-worn cameras (BWC) should be treated similarly to all other forms of evidence within a jurisdiction and in accordance with the Constitution and state, federal, local, and tribal laws. For this reason, many county prosecutors have suggested that all law enforcement agencies in a particular county, serving the same jury pool, work collaboratively to ensure BWC policies are consistent with regard to these critical evidentiary issues. This would be the same case for city prosecutors in cities where there are multiple law enforcement agencies providing service in addition to the primary law enforcement agency (e.g., school, transit, and university law enforcement).
A second important consideration is to have the defense bar be a part of the decision-making process regarding policy creation. Including the defense bar helps law enforcement agencies understand how the defense and their clients view and use the video. Communities will decide at what point in the implementation process the defense bar should receive an orientation regarding the program. Ensuring that the representatives of the accused understand the program will eliminate potential obstacles later on in actual criminal cases.
A final consideration is whether civilian members of the community should be a part of the policy decision-making process. Carlton T. Mayers, II, Esq. from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People summed it up best in a statement shared at the February 26-27, 2015 Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Expert Panel: "there needs to be a transparent and collaborative relationship between law enforcement and the community it serves. In order for this to happen there needs to be a mutual understanding of what the community is experiencing and expects from law enforcement. There also needs to be a mutual understanding of what is involved in the role of law enforcement and how the community can support this role."
There is strong evidence that suggests line officers and their bargaining units should be engaged up front as a department plans its body-worn camera (BWC) program. Such engagement helps to garner support for the program and will allow line officers and bargaining unit representatives to provide input into the planning and deployment process, most notably the creation of the administrative policy.
In addition to the one-on-one contact with bargaining unit representation, many law enforcement executives have noted that they have spent a significant amount of time communicating with officers about the technology at roll call briefings and department meetings prior to launch. Other departments have created "implementation teams" with representatives from various units throughout the department (PERF, 2014). These types of teams meet regularly during the planning and implementation process, air concerns and troubleshoot challenges, and develop policy and training.
Participants in the February 26-27, 2015 Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Expert Panel all agreed that early and ongoing collaboration between agencies and labor organizations was critical to successful BWC program implementation. Chief Sean Whent of the Oakland (CA) Police Department said that their success hinged on the "union being involved in creation of policy and they were most concerned about (the) department saying officers are lying about what is on video." Lieutenant Clarence Trapp from the Pittsburgh (PA) Bureau of Police urged that implementers make collaboration a priority, noting that "when deploying the cameras, the Pittsburgh (PA) Bureau of Police worked with the prosecuting attorney, a professor from the American Civil Liberties Union, and the union president to make this work." Chief Jeff Halstead (retired) from the Fort Worth (TX) Police Department said, "let the union board draft the first policy document and let them have a seat at the policy table and training."
The implementation of a body-worn camera (BWC) program affects nearly every unit in a law enforcement agency. At a minimum, the affected officers and units include: patrol officers, patrol supervisors (sergeants through commanders), training instructors, legal staff, detectives/investigators, internal affairs/professional standards, evidence management and records, technology, and research and planning. Additionally, in some departments, tactical units also wear BWCs. Representatives from all of these units should participate, in some way, in the planning and implementation process.
Much of what the officer needs to know about body-worn cameras (BWC) can be administered through a pre-shift/roll call training session. The training session, at a minimum, should:
- Point out the systems' hardware components (docking station, lens, on/off button, how to wear, etc.).
- Demonstrate how to operate the BWC system.
- Walk officers through a pre-shift inspection of the equipment.
- Review departmental policies related to the use of BWCs (including activation and deactivation protocols).
- Discuss how to effectively use the BWC to assist with the incident report writing and evidence collection.
- Explain how to download the video and what happens to it after download.