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Body-Worn Camera Toolkit

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.

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

Flyer for Data and Society Research Institute

Training Curriculum

Data & Society Research Institute created a document on Police Body-Worn Cameras to discuss best practices for inclusion in training curriculum

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NIJ Primer

NIJ BWC Primer

NLECTC published a primer that answers basic questions about body-worn cameras and implementation issues

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Flyer for The Use of Body-Worn Cameras by Law Enforcement

Training Guidelines

The Constitution Project Committee on Policing Reforms developed a guideline for policy and training on use of Body-Worn Cameras by Law Enforcement.

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Expert Panel

BJA Expert Panel

Justice professionals representing law enforcement, courts, prosecution, public defense, labor organizations, and advocates for privacy, victims, and juveniles initiated Toolkit discussions

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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)

For more information, see:

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:

  • "Just because I put on a camera doesn't mean that it's building a relationship or more trust. Police departments needs to use the cameras as part of a larger engagement strategy." Joe Perez, President, Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association – National Capitol Region
  • "Trust needs to be established. How can we establish more trust amongst those we serve? There should be more dialogue on this topic rather than on logistics." Dr. Michael D. White, Arizona State University
  • "We are posting our video to a YouTube page with redacted videos as a pilot to get transparency and accountability up and requests for videos down." Michael Wagers, Chief Operating Officer, Seattle (WA) Police Department
  • "Over the last two years there has been a change; more transparency and legitimacy in policing, and the government invested more money (increased to £6 million pounds) into the BWC program." Inspector Steve Goodier, Hampshire Constabulary, United Kingdom

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."

For more information, see:

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."