Training

Proper training can be a determining factor in the success of an agency's body-worn camera (BWC) program. As with any new law enforcement initiative, the various roles within an agency (patrol officers, supervisor, internal affairs, information officers, etc.) may require unique content, approaches, and delivery methods. An often overlooked but critical factor in the implementation and sustainment of an effective BWC program is educating and training parties outside the law enforcement agency, such as information technology support, prosecutors, defense bar, judiciary, and other relevant stakeholders that may obtain access to the video recordings.

As part of a comprehensive training plan, an agency should consider educating the public and media on the technology, policies, and operational aspects of the proposed BWC program.

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The answer to this question is dependent on the size, structure, and resources available to the agency. For some agencies, a training officer or training unit might be involved; in others, it might include a commander, legal counsel, information technology specialist, or a combination of personnel. Regardless of the personnel assigned to train law enforcement officers on body-worn cameras (BWC), at least four fundamentals should be included in training:

  1. Officers should be trained on departmental BWC policy (specifically when a BWC should be activated) and any applicable local/tribal ordinances or state laws.
  2. Officers should be trained to conduct a pre-shift inspection of the BWC to ensure that it is in proper operating condition.
  3. Officers should be trained on how and where to wear the BWC.
  4. Officers should be trained on how to properly document recorded events and download the evidence for storage according to departmental policy.
The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) report concludes that "rigorous, ongoing officer training" regarding policy and protocols is essential for effective use of the technology. It may also be useful for an agency to create a training manual on BWCs, and to make that manual available to officers. As use of BWCs expands in an agency, training on the technology should be incorporated into academy curriculum, so that new recruits are exposed to the cameras during their formative training experience. The training may also be provided to other stakeholders, including judges and prosecutors. Some departments have selected an officer to serve as a liaison on BWC issues. The liaison meets periodically with line officers wearing cameras to create a feedback loop regarding training, policy, and use of questions and concerns.

Some helpful considerations were shared by participants in the February 26-27 Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Expert Panel. Specifically, Patricia Wolfhope, Senior Program Manager from the Science and Technology Directorate in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, offered several considerations: "Training officers is highly dependent on what you want the outcome to be. When considering the technology, think about the use case first. How do you plan to use the video? Is it for evidence? Is it face recognition? Is it face detection? When officers start to see the payback of the cameras, then they buy-in and are more interested in the use of the technology. Technology is almost always ahead of privacy and policy issues."

Sergeant Dan Gomez of the Los Angeles (CA) Police Department indicated that its training was integrated into roll calls for every section, "so it would hit every unit." Gomez said, "we also did a pre-deployment training. We selected a field officer to be a liaison with the front-line troops for one-on-one interviews to get real feedback versus what they felt they had to tell implementation team and leadership. We required the vendor to participate in the training as well, but all training was led by cops to the cops. The team also trained the DA's office, who were also involved in policy discussions. A great success is the in-house train-the-trainer program, so each division had a BWC training designee. Transparency and accountability are intermixed. We expect the officer to do the right thing and focused the organization on this. When review of the video with the officer and the footage turns criminal in nature–the nature of the investigation is changed. If we know a criminal act has occurred, then the officer does not view the video–this is a different process. We educated the community that there are two different courses of action. The community didn’t know this and are satisfied with that role and expectations."

The PERF survey indicated that 94% percent of the agencies that have deployed BWCs use the video and audio footage to train officers. The report states, "Many police agencies are discovering that body-worn cameras can serve as a useful training tool to help improve officer performance. For example, agencies are using footage from body-worn cameras to provide scenario-based training, to evaluate performance of new officers in the field, and to identify new areas in which training is needed." (PERF 2014: 7)

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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").

Video data storage is one of the most expensive aspects of body-worn camera (BWC) programs. Some manufacturers provide cloud-based storage. Law enforcement agencies that choose cloud-based storage typically have the option of paying by the amount of storage space that is used or paying on a per-officer/camera basis. However, some agencies elect to store data onsite locally. This requires the agency to purchase its own data storage system and store, retrieve, and share the video evidence, as well as develop the means to address chain-of-custody policies and laws of evidence.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has developed specific guidelines that departments should consider when contracting with third-party vendors for cloud-based data storage. Selected key issues include: the vendor’s system should be compliant with the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Policy (CJIS); the law enforcement agency should retain ownership of the data; the vendor should be prohibited from mining or sharing data without consent from the agency; and the agency should be permitted to conduct audits of the vendor’s cloud system. Agencies should consult the IACP guide before contracting with third-party vendors for data storage.

For more information, see:

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.

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.

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:

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)."

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?
BWC recordings can be a part of a comprehensive review of use-of-force encounters to determine why they ended in violence, and to identify better practices for resolving encounters peacefully (which can then be incorporated into officer training). During his testimony before the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Dr. Michael D. White of Arizona State University stated:

"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."

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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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:

  1. A camera does not follow officers' eyes or see as they see.
  2. Some important danger cues cannot be recorded.
  3. Camera speed differs from the speed of life.
  4. A camera may not see as well as a human does in low light.
  5. An officer's body may block the view.
  6. A camera only records in 2-D.
  7. The absence of sophisticated time-stamping may prove critical.
  8. One camera may not be enough.
  9. A camera encourages second-guessing.
  10. A camera can never replace a thorough investigation.
Participants at the February 2015 Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Expert Panel also stressed the importance of communicating the limits of the technology. Michael Kurtenbach of the Phoenix (AZ) Police Department said, "Sit down with the community and have discussions about limitations for a constructive dialogue." Inspector Steve Goodier from the Hampshire Constabulary in the United Kingdom added, "There is a gap in the limitations of the human and camera, and it is important to make that distinction."

Another key policy issue involves whether officers should be allowed to review video footage of an incident, especially a critical incident, before filing a report or making a statement. The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) report notes, "The majority of law enforcement executives interviewed by PERF are in favor of allowing officers to review body-worn camera (BWC) footage prior to making a statement about an incident in which they were involved. They believe that this approach provides the best evidence of what actually took place." (PERF, 2014: 29)

Some agency leaders, defense attorneys, and civil rights advocates oppose officer review of footage before making a statement, arguing that review of the video may lead the officer to alter or tailor his or her statement. The decision to allow officers to review footage (or not) before making statements should be made locally based on discussion between the agency leaders, union representatives, and other relevant stakeholders such as prosecutors and independent law enforcement review boards, if applicable.

There is also the potential for inconsistencies to exist between the written report and the video. Departments vary in how they handle this. Some agencies do not permit officers to review the video post-event before their reports are written. These agencies take the perspective that they want the "officer's perception" of the event described in the departmental report without the assistance of reviewing the video so that the department better understands how the officer perceived the event as it occurred in the field. One criticism of this approach is that evidence presented through the officer's report and the video evidence might be inconsistent with one another, which could create complications in court. Other agencies permit the officer through agency policy to review the video of the incident while writing the departmental report. This allows the officer more opportunity to ensure that the police report does not omit things that were captured in the video. There have been no evaluations to date that have examined the strengths and weaknesses of either approach. Each agency should work with its in-house legal counsel, local prosecutors, and local defense attorney to determine which approach is best for its jurisdiction.

Lively conversation about allowing or not allowing officer viewing of video took place during the February 26-27, 2015 Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Expert Panel. Although participants provided examples of when officer viewing of videos should be limited or constrained, they also discussed a number of examples illustrating the benefits derived from officers' assessment of their video, including affording valuable opportunities for self-awareness and development. Moreover, Inspector Steve Goodier of the Hampshire Constabulary in the United Kingdom also explained that his agency found situations where a video review with a supervisor or mentor proved instrumental in realizing that "certain training and instructions were not quite translating to real life, giving both an opportunity to reflect on their performance." Los Angeles (CA) Police Department's (LAPD) Maggie Goodrich shared, "the purpose of BWCs is the collection of evidence and to determine what really happened."

Jumana Musa, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, warned against giving officers the ability to view video after a use of force incident or other action resulting in a citizen complaint, explaining that the purpose of "the officer's testimony is to get their assessment of what happened in the moment, so it is important to capture what happened as they perceived it. By showing officers the video of the incident before capturing their statement, the testimony will be a result of the officer processing what they saw on the video rather than what they recalled and this could change the nature of the statement. The police are also taking statements from others involved who don’t have the same opportunity to review the video."

In response, Chief Whent of the Oakland (CA) Police Department said, "when people can view the videos, officers can view them as well, but not prior to statements in the event of an officer-involved shooting. Statements must be given first so they aren't simply recounting video." Maggie Goodrich, LAPD Chief Information Officer, said, "in more serious use-of-force and officer-involved shooting investigations, the officer can review the video before making a statement. However, the involved officers are separated, the line supervisor takes the cameras and powers them off and turns them over to the investigator, and the video review occurs once it is authorized by the investigator".

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 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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Investigators and detectives might need different training on body-worn cameras (BWC) depending on the methods and means the agency uses to share evidence obtained through BWCs. For many agencies, evidence obtained through BWCs will be downloaded by first responders into an in-house or cloud-based storage system. Investigators will need to be trained on how to identify when this evidence becomes available to them, how to retrieve the evidence, and any policies, procedures, ordinances, and laws governing their use. Training may also be required to familiarize detectives and investigators with the use of BWC footage during testimony for criminal and civil trials. All of these procedures should be reviewed by your legal counsel and prosecuting authority prior to implementation.
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

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:

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."

All line-level sworn law enforcement officers should be retrained in some way on the proper use of body-worn cameras (BWC) on an annual basis (Police Executive Research Forum, 2014). The training could review department policies, ordinances, and laws related to BWCs; outline how to conduct a pre-shift inspection of the equipment; and review how to properly document and download BWC evidence. Training may also be required to familiarize officers with the use of BWC footage during testimony on the stand during criminal and civil trials. The training should also consider offering a forum for open dialogue among officers regarding problems, concerns, and questions about the technology.

For more information, see:

Sergeants and supervisors also require training. Supervisors should have the same training as line officers if they are required to wear cameras (policy, operation, video downloading, etc.). But in a supervisory capacity, supervisors use body-worn camera (BWC) video differently from line officers. As a result, they need specialized training as well. Supervisors must clearly understand departmental policy and how it governs their responsibilities and authority to review recorded data. Topics to be addressed in training include:

  • Are supervisors permitted to review officer video randomly? For what purpose?
  • If supervisors review video, are they required to notify the officer?
  • What are the processes a supervisor should take if he or she observes problematic behavior by an officer in a video?

Supervisors should recognize that line officers’ acceptance and incorporation of the technology into their daily routine may vary, and that the speed of adoption can vary based on their comfort with technology.

Some examples of key issues in this area were shared at the February 26-27, 2015 Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Expert Panel. Chief Sean Whent of the Oakland (CA) Police Department said their 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 of the Las Vegas (NV) Metropolitan Police Department explained that they are "requiring an annual recertification for supervisors which is separate from the training for line officers." Maggie Goodrich from the Los Angeles (CA) Police Department highlighted that supervisors may have specific responsibilities regarding BWCs following a critical incident, such as taking possession of cameras from the involved officers.

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 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).

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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.

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."

For more information, see:

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."

Representatives from the prosecutor’s office should be included in the planning and implementation process of any body-worn camera (BWC) effort. Prosecutors and legal counsel will have, or be able to quickly develop, a familiarity with the ordinances and laws that may govern and limit the use of BWCs. Prosecutors will need to participate at some level in the development of internal law enforcement policies and procedures while simultaneously developing new training, policies, and procedures for their own office.

In addition, prosecutors and defense attorneys will have to plan for internal expenses associated with BWCs. For example, while there has been little research regarding the BWC issues confronting prosecutors, one evaluation reported that the City of Phoenix (AZ) Prosecutor’s Office was not prepared for the amount of video evidence its prosecutors would be required to review. Complications arose related to the tracking of BWC evidence as well as the amount of time required to review each video file for evidence (Katz et al., 2015). If BWC video exists related to a particular case, prosecutors may have a legal obligation to review the evidence, and will likely have to disclose it to the defense. As a result, communication between law enforcement and prosecutors on the existence of video is crucial.

Finally, communities should anticipate requests from the judiciary for training and orientations for their judges and clerks regarding the technology.

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.

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).

For more information, see:

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.
When asked this question during the February 26-27, 2015 Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Expert Panel, participants offered these thoughts about critical elements of successful training:

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.

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."

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