Like many new law enforcement strategies and technologies, a successful body-worn camera (BWC) implementation requires community engagement. Active participation from the community is essential to create a robust program and is critical to securing the necessary support, endorsement, and ongoing dialogue for the BWC program. Stakeholders could include:
- Civic leaders
- Victim and privacy advocates
- Law enforcement labor organizations
ACLU Explores Benefits
Jay Stanley explores the ACLU's challenge with police-worn cameras as it relates to the tension between the potential of police-worn cameras to invade privacy and the benefit such cameras afford in promoting police accountability.
The NFOP discusses the pros and cons of the use of body-worn cameras including police officers' and citizen's right to privacy, the potential for discipline, and suggestions for policy, discussions and negotiations.
BJA Expert Panel
Justice professionals representing law enforcement, courts, prosecution, public defense, labor organizations, and advocates for privacy, victims, and juveniles initiated Toolkit discussions
Community Stakeholders FAQs
At a minimum, a law enforcement agency should collaborate with the prosecutor's office (city, county, state, federal, and/or tribal), the public defender and defense bar, the courts, and relevant leaders in local/tribal government (mayor, city council, city attorney, etc.).
The law enforcement agency should also engage civil rights/advocacy groups, community leaders, and residents. A number of agencies have also engaged local media in the process to educate the public, advertise the decision to adopt the technology (i.e., to demonstrate transparency), and provide a mechanism to gather feedback.
In March 2015, there were nearly 30 states considering legislation governing officer body-worn cameras (BWC), many of which mandate cameras for all law enforcement officials in the entire state. Law enforcement leaders should also engage state representatives to ensure that legislatures fully understand the issues surrounding this technology, and that they engage in thoughtful deliberations regarding BWCs. By engaging external stakeholders, the law enforcement agency can ensure that expectations about the impact of the technology are reasonable and their outcomes obtainable.
Questions from community members are likely to focus on several key issues. The first involves aspects of body-worn camera (BWC) policy. For example, community members will likely ask questions such as: when will officers turn the camera on? Do they have to tell me before they turn it on? Can I ask the officer to turn the camera off? Am I allowed to request a copy of the video?
Community members are also likely to ask privacy-related questions, such as: Are officers allowed to film in my house or apartment? What happens if the officer records my children? Who is allowed to watch the video? Is this video going to end up on the internet or YouTube? Will my neighbor be able to see this video?
Community members may also want to know about the goals of the BWC program. They may ask: Why are police officers wearing BWCs? What does the agency hope to accomplish with BWCs? Will all officers be wearing cameras? BWCs will have a significant impact on community members, and community buy-in is critical to the success of a BWC program. As a result, law enforcement agencies should be prepared to provide detailed responses to these and other questions.
Public and media requests for body-worn camera (BWC) video are governed by local, tribal and state laws. As a result, law enforcement agencies should work closely with their legal counsel on this issue. States vary tremendously in the scope of their laws governing public access to government information, including BWC video, which is generally viewed as a public record. The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) cautions agencies to balance the legitimate interest of openness with the need to protect privacy rights. For example, releasing a video that shows the inside of a person's home will likely raise privacy concerns. Also, most local, tribal and state laws have a provision that allows an agency to decline a public records request if the video is part of an ongoing investigation. PERF also cautions agencies to use their exceptions to releasing video "judiciously to avoid any suspicion by community members that police are withholding video footage to hide officer misconduct or mistakes." (PERF, 2014: 18) Departments should also provide clear reasons for why they decline to release a video.
Department policy should also specifically prohibit officers from accessing recorded data for personal use, and from uploading data to public web sites. Departments should clearly articulate the punishments for such violations (PERF, 2014).
Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Expert Panel participants further emphasized the value of having open forums to discuss BWC programs. Lieutenant Daniel Zehnder, Las Vegas (NV) Metropolitan Police Department, explained that they "hosted an extensive media day–set up scenarios and spent hours training local media on how the cameras work. We found this extremely important to build rudimentary knowledge." Matthew Scheider, Assistant Director for Research and Development at the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, suggested, "the key is for officers and policymakers to engage with the public before implementation; this engagement at the community level is critical. I encourage this group to think about the future of BWC–what does the future hold and what are the pitfalls it holds? One potential future and pitfall is facial recognition with BWC, including those in the background. The notion of FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) and access of records is important, and concerns over storage will get easier but community members will want access."
For more information, see:
- 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
There are limitations to body-worn cameras (BWC), and agencies should educate the public, advocacy groups, and other stakeholders regarding those limitations. BWCs may not capture every aspect of an encounter based on camera angle, focus, or lighting. For example, the camera view may be obscured when an officer moves his or her body. Footage may also not capture the entirety of an encounter. There may be different interpretations of what transpires on a video among those who view it.
There is also a relevant body of research on memory science: how officers perceive events during a high-stress critical incidents, and how they are able to accurately recall what transpired after the fact. Dr. Bill Lewinski, Executive Director of the Force Science Institute, testified before the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing regarding memory science and how such issues provide an important context for understanding the impact of BWCs. Dr. Lewinski identified 10 important limitations with BWCs that should shape our review and understanding of law enforcement behavior during critical encounters:
- A camera does not follow officers' eyes or see as they see.
- Some important danger cues cannot be recorded.
- Camera speed differs from the speed of life.
- A camera may not see as well as a human does in low light.
- An officer's body may block the view.
- A camera only records in 2-D.
- The absence of sophisticated time-stamping may prove critical.
- One camera may not be enough.
- A camera encourages second-guessing.
- A camera can never replace a thorough investigation.
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."
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:
- "Our chief hosted multiple community outreach groups to give folks an opportunity to weigh in on our body-worn camera program. In addition, we conducted an online survey of the community and used UCLA (University of California-Los Angeles) as an independent body to evaluate the survey." Sgt. Dan Gomez, Los Angeles (CA) Police Department
- "We brought in the community–even those community members that didn’t like us–to watch our training. And, they loved it." Chief Jeff Halstead (retired), Fort Worth (TX) Police Department
- "Train with the community through established community stakeholders. Temper what the camera can do with the reality of what it captures." Lieutenant Daniel Zehnder, Las Vegas (NV) Metropolitan Police Department
The deployment of a body-worn camera (BWC) program by itself cannot alter law enforcement–community relations, especially if those relationships have been characterized by long-standing tension and anger. Camera deployment cannot replace community policing. Expectations about the impact of BWCs must be reasonable, and agencies should be proactive in their discussions about the technology. The key to increasing law enforcement legitimacy, especially in minority communities, rests with ensuring procedural justice and community policing. Departments should think about BWCs in terms of achieving these two objectives.
In his testimony before the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Dr. Michael D. White of Arizona State University stated the police leaders should, "Emphasize that expectations about the impact of BWCs must be reasonable. In cities like Ferguson (MO), the relationship between police and the community is defined by long-standing anger and distrust. BWCs, on their own, cannot alter that relationship. But BWCs can represent a starting point for police to demonstrate transparency and a willingness to engage with community members. This first step is especially important in cities like Ferguson where police officers are seen as enemies and threats, rather than public servants and problem solvers."
The evidence suggesting that body-worn cameras (BWC) can reduce liability for a law enforcement agency and city is limited. It is reasonable to assume, however, that if BWCs reduce complaints against officers and officer use-of-force (as suggested by several studies), then the technology may also reduce liability risk. Several law enforcement agencies have used BWCs in a more targeted manner, by requiring officers with a history of complaints to wear the technology. Chief Chitwood of the Daytona Beach (FL) Police Department required an officer with a history of questionable complaints to wear a BWC (PERF, 2014). After several incidents in which the officer claimed that his camera had malfunctioned, the department was able to determine that the camera was turned off intentionally and the officer was subsequently fired. Chief Lansdowne, formerly of the San Diego (CA) Police Department, stated that BWC footage provides important information to investigate claims of racial profiling. "When it comes to collecting data, the raw numbers don’t always fully capture the true scope of a problem. But by capturing an audio and video account of an encounter, cameras provide an objective record of whether racial profiling took place, what patterns of officer behavior are present, and how often the problem occurs." (PERF, 2014: 8)
A number of agencies have found that the adoption of BWCs can be helpful in response to external investigations, consent decrees, and other forms of external scrutiny (PERF, 2014). Departments in Detroit (MI), New Orleans (LA), Spokane (WA), and Las Vegas (NV) have implemented BWC programs as part of agreements with the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services or the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
During the February 26-27, 2015 Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Expert Panel, Damon Mosler, Deputy District Attorney of San Diego County (CA), explained, "there is a cost or consequence of stopping tape or not recording–it may have adverse impact that could call into question officers' motives, creating civil liability for (the) department." Expounding on the liability "costs," Donald Papy, Chief Deputy City Attorney for the City of Miami Beach (FL), shared, "we defend civil claims of police misconduct and there is extraordinary value in the civil realm as well as criminal." In contemplating how much money can be saved by having BWCs, Papy offered that "many cases would not proceed if a BWC video showed what actually happened–this should be studied." Further, Papy said that "potential liability and attorney fees are a huge issue for a municipality" and then provided an example of a case that could have been dropped if BWCs had been available: "a man driving a car was being pursued and he ended up smashing into a utility pole and when the police arrived he was lying outside the passenger side of the car. He was paralyzed. He claimed he had gotten out of the car to see the damage on the passenger side and then the police beat him into paralysis. Our evidence showed the car had violently spun around causing him to be ejected, winding up on the ground outside of the passenger side and was paralyzed. If the officer had a BWC, the video would have showed the truth."
Available research consistently shows that officer body-worn cameras (BWC) contribute to a substantial and significant reduction in complaints against law enforcement officers. For example, in Rialto, CA, community member complaints against officers dropped by 88% after BWCs were deployed in the field (Ariel et al., 2014). In Mesa, AZ, BWCs were associated with a 60% decrease in complaints against law enforcement (Mesa Police Department, 2013). In Phoenix, AZ, complaints against officers who wore the cameras declined by 23%, compared to a 10.6% increase among comparison officers and 45.1% increase among patrol officers in other precincts (Katz et al., 2015).
Law enforcement executives agree that BWCs reduce complaints. Former Police Chief Ron Miller of Topeka, KS, stated, "There's absolutely no doubt that having BWCs reduces the number of complaints against officers." (PERF, 2014: 6) The reasons BWCs may cause reductions in community member complaints are not known. During the February 26-27, 2015 Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) BWC Expert Panel, Dr. Michael D. White of Arizona State University highlighted the importance of these findings and noted that the cameras may cause improved behavior ("civilizing effect"), may influence community member reporting rates (less likely to file complaints, especially frivolous complaints), or both. A number of law enforcement executives indicated that their officers have observed that BWCs discourage members of the public from filing unfounded complaints. More research is needed (especially in identifying the underlying cause of the benefit), but the consistency of the complaint reduction findings is notable.
BWCs can improve relationships between law enforcement and communities but are not a panacea, and community engagement should occur before or simultaneous to implementation. Joe Perez, President of the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association - National Capitol Region, stated during the BJA BWC Expert Panel, "in regards to building trust with communities, having a BWC isn't going to build a better relationship with the community. Relationships need to be built before putting on the camera. Just because I put on a camera doesn't mean that it's building a relationship or more trust." Kay Chopard Cohen, Executive Director of the National District Attorneys Association, stated, "If a chief is worried about community relationships, then the chief has to do more than just give an officer a camera. He or she needs to go out and engage the community." Michael Kurtenbach of the Phoenix (AZ) Police Department added, "Develop relationships with the community on the front-end because it's too late to try to make those connections after an incident."
Also during the BWC Expert Panel, Inspector Steve Goodier of the Hampshire Constabulary in the United Kingdom shared highlights from their yearlong study of 180 body-worn videos citing reductions in crime, police-generated incidents, and assaults against police officers. Inspector Goodier further explained that "a large-scale public opinion survey was done before and after program implementation that concluded 85% of the public support for BWC technology. This survey was complemented by an officer survey–an overwhelming positive for support for BWCs.""
For more information, see:
A number of legal and policy issues might influence this decision. In some states, for example, an officer is allowed to continue to record even if a person requests that the officer turn off the camera, if the encounter occurs in a public setting; but the officer is not permitted to continue to record in an individual’s private dwelling unless permission is granted to the officer. Before creating a policy, law enforcement agencies must check with the agency and legal counsel on the applicable state, local, and tribal law on consent to record.
In general, however, officers wearing a body-worn camera (BWC) should be sensitive to the privacy and dignity of those who are being recorded, and should stop recording when requested if privacy concerns outweigh the legitimate interests of law enforcement. If an officer decides to turn off their BWC based on the person’s request, they should first record the request to discontinue recording, and then verbally state that they are turning off the camera out of consideration to that request. These statements should be captured by the BWC prior to turning off the BWC system.
There is no evidence suggesting that body-worn cameras (BWC) have a negative impact on law enforcement–community relationships. However, a number of executives expressed concerns during their interviews with the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). For example, Bob Cherry, the former President of the Baltimore City (MD) Fraternal Order of Police said, "Trust builds through relationships, and body-worn cameras start from a position of mistrust."
Officers in several other agencies noted that BWCs can hurt intelligence-gathering opportunities, as members of the public will be less likely to provide information if they know they will be recorded. Some law enforcement executives disagreed with this claim, pointing out that BWCs in and of themselves are not responsible for an agency’s relationship with the community.