Body-Worn Camera FAQs
Officer body-worn cameras (BWCs) 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.
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 Service 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 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 presented the videos to evaluate quality. It was a fully transparent process; we felt responsible to demonstrate and share with groups when video did not fully capture or represent the entire event.”
Dashboard cameras are fixed to the 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
Currently, we do not have an accurate estimate of the number of law enforcement agencies that have initiated body-worn camera (BWC) programs. Several law enforcement agencies in the United Kingdom were experimenting with BWCs as far back as 2005. In August 2013, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) surveyed 500 law enforcement agencies regarding their use of BWCs. Of the 254 agencies that responded, just 25% (n=63) indicated that they deployed BWCs. Interest in the technology has grown tremendously since then. One BWC vendor advertised in February 2015 that its product has been purchased by 4,000 law enforcement agencies worldwide, but this figure has not been verified. One expert has estimated that between 4,000 and 6,000 law enforcement agencies are planning to adopt or have already adopted BWCs. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) is performing a survey to better understand the number of law enforcement agencies that have implemented a BWC program.
For additional information, see:
Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) for Community Oriented Policing Services, Implementing a BodyWorn Camera Program: Recommendations and Lessons Learned: http://www.justice.gov/iso/opa/resources/472014912134715246869.pdf
Bureau of Justice Statistics, Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics (LEMAS), http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=dcdetail&iid=248#Related_topics
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:
- National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC) for the National Institute of Justice, Primer on Body-Worn Cameras for Law Enforcement: https://nccpsafety.org/assets/files/library/Primer_on_Body-Worn_Cameras.pdf
- System Assessment and Validation for Emergency Responders (SAVER) for the Science and Technology Directorate, Body-Worn Video Cameras for Law Enforcement Assessment Report: https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Body-Worn-Cams-AR_0415-508_0.pdf
- National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology (NLECTC) for the National Institute of Justice, Body-Worn Cameras for Criminal Justice: Market Survey: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/nlectc/245747.pdf
- Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) for the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Implementing a Body-Worn Camera Program: Recommendations and Lessons Learned: http://www.justice.gov/iso/opa/resources/472014912134715246869.pdf
- Police and Crime Standards Directorate, Guidance for the Police Use of Body-Worn Video Devices: http://library.college.police.uk/docs/college-of-policing/Body-worn-video-guidance-2014.pdf
- Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Canada’s Guidance for the Use of Body-Worn Cameras by Law Enforcement Authorities: https://www.priv.gc.ca/en/privacy-topics/surveillance/police-and-public-safety/gd_bwc_201502/
For additional evaluations from around the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, see:
- Phoenix, Arizona: http://cvpcs.asu.edu/sites/default/files/content/projects/PPD_SPI_Final_Report%204_28_15.pdf
- Mesa, Arizona: http://issuu.com/leerankin6/docs/final_axon_flex_evaluation_12-3-13-
- Isle of Wight, U.K.: https://researchportal.port.ac.uk/portal/en/publications/evaluation-of-the-introduction-of-personal-issue-body-worn-video-cameras-operation-hyperion-on-the-isle-of-wight(aa564df2-ffda-4b72-b0b6-7f9cb823aa77).html
- Paisley & Aberdeen, U.K.: http://www.bwvsg.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/BWV-Scottish-Report.pdf
- Plymouth, U.K.: http://library.college.police.uk/docs/homeoffice/guidance-body-worn-devices.pdf
- Edmonton, Canada: http://www.cacole.ca/confere-reunion/pastCon/presentations/2014/maryS.pdf
- Los Angeles (CA) Police Department and Las Vegas (NV) Metro Police Department: http://nij.gov/topics/law-enforcement/technology/pages/body-worn-cameras.aspx#ongoing
Or view BWC Toolkit Research Resources with the category of Implementation Experiences
Body-worn cameras (BWCs) 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:
Rialto, California: https://www.policefoundation.org/publication/self-awareness-to-being-watched-and-socially-desirable-behavior-a-field-experiment-on-the-effect-of-body-worn-cameras-on-police-use-of-force/
Isle of Wight, U.K.: https://researchportal.port.ac.uk/portal/en/publications/evaluation-of-the-introduction-of-personal-issue-body-worn-video-cameras-operation-hyperion-on-the-isle-of-wight(aa564df2-ffda-4b72-b0b6-7f9cb823aa77).html
The decision by a law enforcement agency to implement a body-worn camera (BWC) program represents an enormous investment of time and resources. The following are some of the concerns related to BWC programs:
- Buying the hardware and managing the data: In January 2015, the acting Chief of the Phoenix (AZ) Police Department announced that it would cost the department $3.5 million to outfit its 3,000 officers with body-worn cameras and manage the BWC program. Overall, the costs vary depending on the type of camera, type of storage, IT support, and use of video. Agencies have been able to save money by joining with other agencies to purchase cameras and storage.
- Privacy considerations: Privacy rights of the public are a primary concern. BWCs have the potential to impinge on community members' expectation of privacy. The technology may also present concerns for vulnerable populations such as children and victims of crime. Law enforcement agencies should fully investigate state privacy laws and engage relevant stakeholder groups (e.g., victim advocacy groups) before adopting BWCs. Officer privacy should also be addressed. Some law enforcement unions have opposed BWCs, arguing that adoption of the technology must be negotiated as part of the collective bargaining agreement. Also, at the February 26-27, 2015 Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Expert Panel, some of the audience expressed concerns about BWCs because the technology gives supervisors the opportunity to go on "fishing expeditions" against officers in their command. Discussions among law enforcement executives and line officers are an important aspect of the policy development for implementing a BWC program.
- Prosecution: Prosecutors and defense attorneys will want to review BWC video related to their cases, but they too have an obligation to protect the privacy of community members captured in the video. Therefore, it is important that the impact on prosecutorial and defense bar resources is taken into account when implementing a BWC program.
- Policy development: During the BWC Expert Panel, participants shared very specific concerns and examples about BWC policy. For instance, Maggie Goodrich of the Los Angeles Police Department discussed her agency's concerns about ensuring officers always consider safety first and not put themselves in danger because of any additional distraction caused by the cameras. Assistant Chief Michael Kurtenbach of the Phoenix (AZ) Police Department walked through an example of a video used in a prosecution that resulted in an assault conviction of the officer. Triggered by the egregious behavior in the video, the agency reviewed three months of prior video to discover a pattern of inappropriate behavior. Upon the officer’s termination, the police union expressed concerns about evaluation of prior video, because the department had said it would not use video for administrative purposes. Kurtenbach suggested this illustrates the need for thoughtful consideration of policies even though, in this example, "once the videos were seen everyone agreed the officer should be fired."
- Training considerations: Law enforcement agencies should plan for additional training on camera use, video review, and video expungement and redaction.
- Advocacy considerations: Cynthia Pappas from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention reminded BWC Expert Panel participants that "95% of youth and juveniles commit non-violent offenses so there should be great precautions made to protect them, including protections from public screening" of the video. Krista Blakeney-Mitchell from the Office on Violence Against Women went on to describe how victim confidentiality should be addressed during a call for assistance for domestic violence. If an officer is entering the home of a domestic violence victim, the victim is exposed. "We need to consider how that plays out later in recordings. Will the video be used against the victim based on her demeanor near the time of the incident? Will she be re-victimized?" Another concern is the use of BWCs when dealing with sexual assault victims and the need to decide how video will be used in these situations. Lastly, Blakeney-Mitchell explained that it is "hard for victims to come forward when everyone will know their story based on video footage…there is a concern that victim reporting will go down."
For more information, see:
In May 2015, Department of Justice Today announced a $20 million Body-Worn Camera (BWC) Pilot Partnership Program to respond to the immediate needs of local and tribal law enforcement organizations. The investment includes $17 million in competitive grants for the purchase of BWCs, $2 million for training and technical assistance, and $1 million for the development of evaluation tools to study best practices. The pilot program is part of President Obama’s proposal to invest $75 million over three years to purchase 50,000 BWCs for law enforcement agencies.
Administered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, under the Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs (OJP), the BWC Pilot Partnership Program will provide support to help law enforcement agencies develop, implement, and evaluate BWC programs across the United States.
The Justice Department expects to provide 50 awards to law enforcement agencies, with about one-third of the grants directed toward smaller law enforcement agencies. The grants, which require a 50/50 in-kind or cash match, can be used to purchase equipment, but applicants must establish a strong plan for BWC implementation and a robust training policy before purchasing cameras. The long-term costs associated with storing this information will be the financial responsibility of each local agency.
Another $2 million will fund a national BWC training and technical assistance provider through a competitive process. This training and technical assistance will provide support to law enforcement agencies to successfully develop and implement their BWC programs.
OJP's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) will receive $1 million of the funds to collect data on BWC usage through surveys of law enforcement agencies. BJS will also design data collection forms that can be used in future surveys of prosecutors and defense attorneys to measure how BWC footage is being used by the courts in criminal cases.
For more information, see:
- The White House Blog, President Obama's Plan to Strengthen Community Policing: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/12/01/building-trust-between-communities-and-local-police
- Office of Justice Programs, Comprehensive Body-Worn Camera Program Fact Sheet: http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/opa/press-releases/attachments/2015/05/01/body-worn_camera_fact_sheet_.pdf
The acquisition, implementation, and use of body-worn camera (BWC) video in state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies can be a costly and complex process. This toolkit was developed by the Bureau of Justice Assistance in partnership with an expert panel of criminal justice practitioners with BWC experience to provide law enforcement agencies with the resources necessary to implement officer BWCs in an efficient, equitable, and effective way. This toolkit seeks to help you become familiar with a broad array of considerations to include:
- Defining concrete steps to follow for successful planning and implementation of a BWC program.
- Identifying personnel and internal organizational challenges to an agency when implementing a BWC initiative, to include training and labor management considerations.
- Discussing technical issues associated with the implementation of BWCs.
- Assessing the impact of BWCs and the evidence they collect on a law enforcement agency and the entire criminal justice system, including courts, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and victims.
- Recognizing privacy and legal issues as they relate to members of the public, a law enforcement agency, and the accused.
This toolkit is community sourced. That is, most of the material in this clearinghouse was contributed by your colleagues representing various disciplines from across the country and the world, and it is available for your use, education, and consideration. If you use content from the toolkit, we only ask that you attribute the material to the web site or the original author of the material. This toolkit does not endorse any one resource but asks you to evaluate the appropriate resources for your communities’ needs as you work your way through the Body-Worn Camera Toolkit implementation checklist. And, if you have something to contribute, just e-mail us at [email protected]