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Body-Worn Camera Toolkit

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

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

BWC Podcast Series

For more about these topics, please check out the BWC Podcast Series

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Subject Matter Experts Share

Featured Resources

Poster for NIJ's Market Survey on Body-Worn Camera Technologies

NIJ releases new BWC Market Survey


Read the Survey

Poster for NIJ's Primer on Body Worn Camera Technologies

NIJ releases new Primer on BWC Technologies


Read the Primer

Flyer for body-worn video cameras for law enforcement assessment report

SAVER Overview

DHS's System Assessment and Validation for Emergency Responders (SAVER) program provides a comprehensive review of body-worn cameras and their possible impacts to civil liberties and rights

Read the Report

Flyer for Body-Worn Camera Guidelines to help formulate model policy for an evolving technology

COPS Policy Guidelines

Guidelines to help formulate model policy for an evolving technology around Body-Worn Cameras

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Technology FAQs

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The technology consists of the camera, which is typically worn on the officer's uniform (placed optionally on the shoulder lapel, sunglasses, or hat), with a forward-facing viewable area. When thinking about the mounting location, an agency should consider the uniform types worn by officers and how uniforms may vary throughout the year (summer, winter). Additional accessories may be required to ensure the camera is properly positioned, securely attached and protected to support the officer and his or her unique mission.

There are a number of different types of camera with differing options, including user controls such as push to record, touch-screen controls, video and audio feed, and playback in field. The video evidence is uploaded through a docking station on a local storage device (e.g., server) or through an online web-based digital media storage platform where the evidence can be encrypted and managed. Some models also allow for video upload while in the field.

At the February 26-27, 2015, Bureau of Justice Assistance Body-Worn Camera Expert Panel convening, Donna Twyford of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection shared a warning that "cameras with lots of options are not always beneficial-they may simply just present more items that can be lost or broken." During those same discussions, Maggie Goodrich of the Los Angeles (CA) Police Department (LAPD) explained it is important to critically look at and transparently share equipment capabilities. In the LAPD, "there was an officer evaluation–if the vendor said that the camera did A, B, and C, we tested it to prove it. We conducted reviews of different mounts and evaluated video and audio quality. It was a fully transparent process we found that it was critical to receive input from those who would ultimately wear the cameras."

There are a large variety of body-worn cameras (BWC) available for use by law enforcement. They vary by a number of things, including battery life length, event marking, weight, camera placement, camera size, quality of video, vision type (day or day/night), field of view, playback capacity, charge time, pre-event recording, law enforcement radio interface, video and audio format, video safeguards, download capability, and cost. In March 2014, the National Institute of Justice published a market survey that examined BWC vendors across a range of categories, including location of the camera mount, recording capabilities, evidentiary safeguards, tracking features (e.g., chain of custody), and video management.

For more information, see:

The types of equipment that are necessary to record and download video vary by manufacturer and end user choice. At a minimum, a camera and docking station is required; some agencies elect to purchase accompanying car-mounting equipment, extra batteries, tablets, and GPS sensors.

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

  • Capital outlay. This can include the number of BWCs, mounting kits, tablets, field viewers, and docking stations.
  • Operational costs. Data storage, software, and redaction costs are included in this category as well as costs associated with officer BWC administration (download time, reviewing video) and any efforts required to track and provide the video to the courts.
  • Replacement costs. This is related to repairs, upgrades to next-generation technology, warranties, and replacements.

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

In addition to the hardware and data storage costs, departments have identified other expenses. For example, "Many agencies appoint at least one full-time officer to manage the camera program. Agencies must provide ongoing training programs, ensure that cameras are properly maintained, fix technical problems, and address any issues of officer noncompliance." (PERF, 2014: 32)

The costs of managing a BWC program are extensive and must be considered long-term. Weighing costs has helped departments place principled limitations on their program. This analysis should be part of the implementation design and discussion with other criminal justice officials and the community at large. Considerations may include:

  • Limiting the types of encounters that must be recorded.
  • Adopting shorter data-retention time periods.
  • Seeking private funding to support the program.
  • Developing other storage options for videos that must be kept for longer periods of time (e.g., saving critical incidents to a separate internal drive or to a disk).

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

For more information, see:

There is potential to integrate body-worn cameras (BWC) with facial recognition systems. The use of facial recognition and BWCs may pose serious risks to public privacy. Agencies that explore this integration should proceed very cautiously and should consult with legal counsel and other relevant stakeholders.

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:

Law enforcement agencies should consult with their local prosecutors and legal counsel as they design their data storage policies. Laws governing how long video must be stored may vary across cities, tribal governments, and states. Video that depicts an arrest or critical incident may have to be stored for an extended period of time. Departments have varied policies on how long they keep video that depicts an encounter where no formal action is taken. Some departments will store such video as long as a community member can file a complaint. For example, if members of the public can file a complaint for up to six months after an encounter with a law enforcement officer, it may be necessary to keep all video for six months so the video can be accessed to assist with the complaint investigation. State law may dictate the length of time for storage of more formal law enforcement encounters with members of the public. These are important issues that law enforcement agencies should discuss with their prosecuting authority before procuring storage systems or enacting any policies regarding storage.

Some departments classify body-worn camera video as either "evidentiary" or "non-evidentiary." Evidentiary video includes footage that can be used for investigative purposes, and many departments have created sub-classification systems of types of videos (homicide, use-of-force, arrest, mental health commitment, etc.). The length of time a video is retained is then typically determined by how the video is classified (evidentiary or non-evidentiary) and, if evidentiary, the type of encounter.

Many of those surveyed by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) retain non-evidentiary video for 60-90 days. Regardless, retention times should be specifically stated in department policy, as should the process for data deletion. As an indicator of transparency, many departments publicly post their retention policies on their web site.

The PERF report (PERF, 2014) also identifies a number of data storage issues that should be covered by policy and put in place:

  • The policy should clearly prohibit data tampering, editing, or copying.
  • There should be technological protections against tampering.
  • The department should have an auditing system in place that documents who accesses each video, when the access occurs, and why.
  • The policy should identify who has authority to access video.
  • Departments should develop a reliable back-up system for video.
  • Law enforcement should provide guidance on when officers should download video (e.g., at the end of the shift).
  • The policy should be explicit about the use of third-party vendors.

There are a handful of useful resources on body-worn cameras (BWC). The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office published a report in 2014 that examines key issues and offers policy recommendations. The report is based on survey responses from 254 agencies, interviews with 40 law enforcement executives who have implemented BWCs, and outcomes from a one-day conference held on September 11, 2013, that included more than 200 law enforcement executives, scholars, and experts. In April 2014, the Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center published a report that describes the core issues surrounding the technology and examines the state of research on those issues (White, 2014). In March 2014, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) published a market survey that compared BWC vendors across a range of categories. There is also a growing number of published evaluations that examine the implementation, impact, and consequences of body-worn cameras. This web site and toolkit is intended to be a clearinghouse of the latest available research, reports, and knowledge on the technology.

For additional information, see:

For additional evaluations from around the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, see:

Or view BWC Toolkit Research Resources with the category of Implementation Experiences

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

  • Basic camera usage: who will wear the cameras; where will the cameras be worn (hat, sunglasses, chest, etc.).
  • Designated staff member: identify who is responsible for maintaining, charging, reporting, documenting malfunctions, and issuing new cameras.
  • Recording protocols: when to activate and deactivate camera, and when recording is required, discretionary, and prohibited.
  • Video downloading process: who will download, when download will occur, where data will be stored, and how it will be safeguarded from tampering.
  • Method for documenting chain of custody.
  • Data retention periods for different categories of recorded data (evidentiary, non-evidentiary).
  • Process for accessing and reviewing data: identify who is authorized to review and under what circumstances (e.g., individual officers, supervisors).
  • Process for releasing recorded data to the public, including redaction processes, timelines for release, and data specifically prohibited from release.
  • Process for contracting with third-party vendors for data storage.

Other resources for policy considerations include: a report by the National Institute of Justice Sensor, Surveillance, and Biometric Technologies (SSBT) Center of Excellence (2012); the International Association of Chiefs of Police Body-Worn Cameras Model Policy; and the Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center Report (White, 2014).

Several policy areas are described in greater detail below.

As agencies consider the formal adoption of body-worn cameras (BWC), some officers may choose to purchase and wear their own personal BWCs, or an officer may wish to do so if any agency does not deploy cameras to its entire force of sworn personnel. The decision to allow officers to wear personally owned devices should be made locally, but both the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and a number of law enforcement executives have expressed concern with self-purchase of BWCs. Such cameras are a potential problem because the data recorded by a personal BWC is not owned by the law enforcement agency. Moreover, there may be insufficient protections in place for proper storage and safeguarding of the video (e.g., tampering, chain of custody). PERF specifically recommends that officers be prohibited from carrying their own privately owned cameras on duty. Officers who utilize personally owned technology may have this technology seized and examined and be subject to extensive review (of personal and professional data, video, photos, etc.), which could be used to impeach the officer in legal proceedings.

For more information, see: