Technology

Wearable camera systems can be a valuable tool for law enforcement agencies. Specifically, the National Institute of Justice's Body-Worn-Camera Market Survey states that body-worn cameras (BWC) "offer potential advantages in keeping officers safe, enabling situational awareness, improving community relations and accountability and providing evidence for trial."

BWC systems typically include a camera, microphone, and battery pack that can be mounted on an officers' person. Additional components to consider include docking and charging abilities, video storage, evidentiary controls, and privacy redaction functions. When designing a technology solution or selecting a BWC provider, it is important to understand and evaluate how each solution compares to, and fulfills, the operational and specification needs of the agency in question and relevant jurisdictional laws. Take some time to review these technology-focused frequently asked questions, resources, and example requests for proposals when implementing a BWC program.

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BWC Technology review by Maggie Goodrich, Chief Information Officer, Los Angeles Police Department

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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."

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.

For more information, see:

In general, when estimating the cost of implementing a body-worn camera (BWC) program, three types of costs should be considered.

  • 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.
Law enforcement agencies may be required to follow their jurisdiction's procurement processes in order to purchase BWCs. This process sometimes requires the creation of a committee in charge of the procurement process, preparation of a request for proposal (RFP), review of vendor bids, and a selection process. Agency leaders should consult with their jurisdiction’s leadership to ensure that requirements for equipment purchases are followed.

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).
This type of evaluation can help agencies understand the costs and benefits of the technology, and can also facilitate conversations with other stakeholders about the technology.

For more information, see:

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.

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.

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.

For additional information, see:

For additional evaluations from around the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, see: Or view BWC Toolkit Research Resources with the category of Implementation Experiences

There is a wide-range of important issues that may be governed by a law enforcement agency’s internal administrative policy. The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) report (PERF, 2014:37) identifies a range of key policy issues, including:

  • Basic camera usage: who will wear the cameras; where will the cameras be worn (hat, sunglasses, chest, etc.).
  • Designated staff member: identify who is responsible for maintaining, charging, reporting, documenting malfunctions, and issuing new cameras.
  • Recording protocols: when to activate and deactivate camera, and when recording is required, discretionary, and prohibited.
  • Video downloading process: who will download, when download will occur, where data will be stored, and how it will be safeguarded from tampering.
  • Method for documenting chain of custody.
  • Data retention periods for different categories of recorded data (evidentiary, non-evidentiary).
  • Process for accessing and reviewing data: identify who is authorized to review and under what circumstances (e.g., individual officers, supervisors).
  • Process for releasing recorded data to the public, including redaction processes, timelines for release, and data specifically prohibited from release.
  • Process for contracting with third-party vendors for data storage.
Other resources for policy considerations include: a report by the National Institute of Justice Sensor, Surveillance, and Biometric Technologies (SSBT) Center of Excellence (2012); the International Association of Chiefs of Police Body-Worn Cameras Model Policy; and the Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center Report (White, 2014).

Several policy areas are described in greater detail below.

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.

For more information, see:

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The backend of the implementation of a body-worn camera (BWC) program requires a great deal of coordination. Criminal investigators, prosecutors, defense attorneys, forensic scientists, evidence technologists, public information officers, information technology specialists, and other personnel all need to be trained on BWC policies and need to develop their own policies and procedures for processing and using video obtained through BWCs. For example, personnel associated with the courts (e.g., prosecutors, defense attorneys) need to develop strategies for tracking and reviewing evidence obtained through BWCs; information technology specialists need to purchase and install equipment and software; and public information officers need to establish and implement protocols for releasing information obtained through BWCs. Prosecutors also need to have timely access to recorded data, as delays in gaining access could affect the adjudication of a criminal case. Law enforcement agencies should keep prosecutors and judges apprised of changes to their BWC program, especially with regard to expansion. As more cameras are deployed to officers, prosecutors (and defense attorneys) may have to adjust staffing accordingly. According to Vicki Hill, Acting City of Phoenix (AZ) Prosecutor, for every 100 cameras added by the Phoenix (AZ) Police Department, the prosecutor’s office needed to hire or re-assign a new staff member.

Participants in the February 26-27, 2015 Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Camera Expert Panel were unanimous in emphasizing the early and ongoing involvement of the prosecution community in planning and implementing a BWC program. Like other law enforcement participants, Michael Kurtenbach of the Phoenix (AZ) Police Department stated, "agencies need to involve prosecutors, the community, etc... because the development of BWC policy needs to be well-understood and comprehensive." To expound on the need, Deputy District Attorney Damon Mosler from San Diego (CA) County said, "anybody in charge of developing a body-worn camera policy should first consult prosecutors and civil liabilities attorneys." He further warned that "agencies will have problems, so they need policies in place about retention, access, and timely discovery before activation, or cases will be delayed." Vicki Hill, Acting City of Phoenix (AZ) Prosecutor, reminded the panel about the significant impact BWCs have on the prosecutor community, sharing that an "Arizona state statute dictates that we have to redact certain personally identifying information (PII) about the victims before turning it over to the defense attorney. Prosecutors have to view it, determine what has to be redacted, then render it–which takes twice as long as the length of the video to get the output. Huge financial staffing resources are required for editing video files." Expounding upon the need for prosecutor involvement, Kay Chopard Cohen, National District Attorneys Association, explained, "From a prosecutor's perspective, we need to worry about victim safety and confidentiality, about the safety of innocent bystanders." Chopard Cohen further explained, "BWCs add a layer of complexity; we want to see what happened, but sometimes when an officer responds, it is not ripe for public viewing. There are situations where we have to educate the public and legislatures that this should not be available for public viewing."

For more information, see:

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).

For more information, see:

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:Recommendations and Lessons Learned: http://www.justice.gov/iso/opa/resources/472014912134715246869.pdf

Officer body-worn cameras (BWC) are relatively small devices that record interactions between community members (e.g., the public, suspects, and victims) and law enforcement officers. The video and audio recordings from BWCs can be used by law enforcement to demonstrate transparency to their communities; to document statements, observations, behaviors, and other evidence; and to deter unprofessional, illegal, and inappropriate behaviors by both law enforcement and the public.

There is a wide-range of important issues that may be governed by a law enforcement agency’s internal administrative policy. The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) report (PERF, 2014:37) identifies a range of key policy issues, including:

  • Basic camera usage: who will wear the cameras; where will the cameras be worn (hat, sunglasses, chest, etc.).
  • Designated staff member: identify who is responsible for maintaining, charging, reporting, documenting malfunctions, and issuing new cameras.
  • Recording protocols: when to activate and deactivate camera, and when recording is required, discretionary, and prohibited.
  • Video downloading process: who will download, when download will occur, where data will be stored, and how it will be safeguarded from tampering.
  • Method for documenting chain of custody.
  • Data retention periods for different categories of recorded data (evidentiary, non-evidentiary).
  • Process for accessing and reviewing data: identify who is authorized to review and under what circumstances (e.g., individual officers, supervisors).
  • Process for releasing recorded data to the public, including redaction processes, timelines for release, and data specifically prohibited from release.
  • Process for contracting with third-party vendors for data storage.
Other resources for policy considerations include: a report by the National Institute of Justice Sensor, Surveillance, and Biometric Technologies (SSBT) Center of Excellence (2012); the International Association of Chiefs of Police Body-Worn Cameras Model Policy; and the Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center Report (White, 2014).

Several policy areas are described in greater detail below.

One key policy area involves activation–when are officers required to turn on the camera? Departments have varied considerably on this issue, from very broad policies that require recording every law enforcement–community member contact to highly discretionary policies. One study indicates that activation policy has a significant impact on how often cameras are used. The Mesa (AZ) Police Department employed two different administrative policies during its evaluation period. For the first six months, the policy was very restrictive and gave officers little choice regarding camera activation. During the second six months, the policy was more discretionary. During the first six months (with the restrictive policy), the 50 camera-wearing officers averaged 2,327 video files per month. During the second six-month period (with the less restrictive policy), the same 50 officers averaged 1,353 video files per month–a 42% decline in camera activations (Mesa Police Department, 2013).

The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) has taken the position that recording every encounter with the public would create too many opportunities to violate privacy rights and hinder positive communication between law enforcement and members of the public. PERF identified a number of problem areas, including interviews with crime victims, intelligence-gathering interviews with confidential informants, and simple casual encounters with residents in a neighborhood. Results from the PERF surveys and interviews also indicated that most departments allow for some degree of officer discretion. "Of the police departments that PERF consulted, very few have adopted the policy of recording all encounters with the public. The more common approach is to require officers to activate their cameras when responding to calls for service and during law enforcement-related activities, such as traffic stops, arrests, searches, interrogations, and pursuits." (PERF, 2014: 13)A department’s policy should clearly articulate when officers are required to record, when they can exercise discretion, and when they are prohibited from recording (e.g., interactions with colleagues during routine activities, during strip searches of suspects, and during conversations involving tactics or strategy). Most departments also require an officer to explain why he or she decided to not record an encounter. The policy may also state that an incident may not be recorded if doing so is impractical, impossible, or unsafe for the officer or other community members. Officers should also document in the official report when a video does exist.

A related key policy area is when officers should turn off the camera. Many departments have policies that state an officer can deactivate the body-worn camera (BWC) only at the conclusion of the encounter, and some also require supervisor approval for deactivation. PERF recommends that an officer continue to record the encounter until the incident is over, the officer has left the scene, or a supervisor has approved the deactivation. The officer should announce that the recording is being terminated prior to deactivation.

A department’s policy should also clearly indicate what will happen to an officer who fails to activate a camera in circumstances where activation is required. Will the officer be subject to discipline? If so, how will he or she be disciplined? The consequences for failure to activate as well as premature deactivation should be clearly stated. Several departments have developed a strategy where, for some preliminary period of time (e.g., six months), officers are not disciplined for failure to activate. During that preliminary or pilot period, agency leaders highlight the importance of activation in accordance with department policy and actively advertise that the discipline policy will change after the pilot period ends.

Lively conversation took place at the February 2015 Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Expert Panel around this topic. Some notable examples include privacy comments from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Cato Institute, labor organization comments from the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association and Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association, and victim issues raised by the Baltimore Child Abuse Center.

Jay Stanley from the ACLU suggested, "there needs to be clear policies and clear expectations of line officers when they record and clear consequences when they don’t follow those policies." Matthew Feeney of the Cato Institute emphasized the need for specific third-party policy citing two examples: "if the policy states that footage is released when it is not part of an investigation, under what circumstances individuals can ask for information to be held?" and, "if a community member walks past an officer and is captured on video, can that community member ask for the video to be redacted?"

Asserting that officers need room for discretion when electing to turn cameras on and off, Michael Rubin from the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association stated, "if officers don’t have the ability to make this decision, they will record locations, events, and moments in time that should not be preserved for public consumption. Society gives law enforcement officers the discretion to determine when to use a weapon, but we’re wondering if those same officers are able to exercise sufficient judgment about when to turn on or off a video camera? For example, an officer walking into peoples’ homes should not be obligated to record where valuables are stored or document photographs of their children. Nor, should recordings of business security measures or data storage equipment be allowed to enter the public domain. Such video would only be used by criminals to case targets for future crimes or to allow the morally bankrupt of our society to immortalize people at their most emotionally vulnerable state. The result being, that the police would become secondary victimizers."

Lieutenant Daniel Zehnder, Las Vegas (NV) Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD), explained, "the LVMPD camera turn on/off policy is very detailed. Officers are required to state, while on camera, why the video is being turned off–for example, an officer may turn off the camera if a child enters into the video/scene." Adam Rosenberg of the Baltimore Child Abuse Center then explained, "video technology is used for children interviews by social workers and this footage is used for conducting peer reviews. This could be an analogy for BWC. It would be great to do a peer review of regular policing to improve outcomes."

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One of the primary concerns that law enforcement executives cited when interviewed by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) is that body-worn cameras (BWC) will weaken trust between line officers and the leadership of the department. That is, officers will view the requirement to wear cameras as an indication that they are not trusted. One of the most commonly cited concerns among line officers is that supervisors will have unfettered access to video, allowing them to go on "fishing expeditions" to search for minor violations committed by officers in their command.

One of the most important policy issues involves how camera footage will be used by a department. Departments vary widely on this point. Some departments have policies that state a supervisor can only review an officer’s footage in response to a specific complaint. Some departments also permit supervisors to review footage for training purposes, to ensure that cameras are functioning properly, and to monitor compliance with the BWC program.

Some departments do allow their supervisors to randomly review officer video for the purpose of performance review. Chief Inspector Inglis from Greater Manchester, United Kingdom stated, "Supervisors might not get a lot of face time with officers, so reviewing the video is a good way for supervisors to appraise officers and provide feedback." (PERF, 2014: 25) Many of the departments surveyed in the PERF report do not allow for such performance-based review. PERF recommends that a department’s internal audit unit conduct periodic reviews to ensure compliance with administrative policy governing camera use.

Regardless, it is clear the BWCs present an opportunity for performance review of officers. The decision to take advantage of this opportunity should be made jointly by the department leadership, line officers, and union representatives.

Law enforcement executives who attended the February 26-27, 2015 Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Expert Panel shared relevant examples of key supervisor review policies. Specifically, Chief Whent of the Oakland (CA) Police Department stated, "supervisors are required to review each subordinate’s video, but the policy is being revised to be more specific so officers are randomly reviewed." Lieutenant Daniel Zehnder from the Las Vegas (NV) Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) shared that in the LVMPD "the supervisor is required to report to the scene for any use-of-force scenario. The policy was crafted to ensure there is never a time that the video is viewed by a supervisor without the officer being notified. On the scene the video is viewed together."

The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) study recommends that officers download and tag the recorded data at the end of each shift. Some camera models allow officers to download and tag videos while still in the field immediately after a call (PERF, 2014).

For more information, see:

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