6 Steps to a Balanced Body-Worn Camera Policy [Guest Blog]
- Written by Lt. Chris Peters
- March 29 2016
At Parker PD, we’re committed to providing quality service to the citizens of Parker, CO. With this commitment in mind, the adoption of body-worn cameras and the transparency they provide was a no-brainer for us. From the beginning, we knew the policy supporting the use of the cameras was going to be where we needed to focus our attention. Even before we started testing and deploying the cameras, we worked hard to get that piece right.
Since being published, our body-worn camera policy has received a lot of attention from the media and other law enforcement agencies throughout the country. It has been called one of the best in the nation by multiple sources, including the ACLU and the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights. I recently had the pleasure of participating in a webinar with Chad Marlow from the ACLU, who was key to the success of our policy. In the webinar, we shared the six steps that helped us create a well-balanced policy that takes both the officers’ and communities’ interests into consideration.
1. Commit to a balanced philosophy
If your agency is implementing body-worn cameras, recognize the policy supporting them is just as important, if not more, than the cameras themselves. Commit to creating a policy that serves the interest of both your officers and the public they serve. As you are writing the policy, continually look for ways to account for both—find the sweet spot.
2. Consult the appropriate subject matter experts
When crafting a successful body-worn camera policy, include individuals from different areas, with varying expertise. Do not create your policy in a vacuum. Long before we deployed the cameras, we began work on the policy. We collected input from our officers and other agencies. We read content from sources such as PERF and federal government studies. We involved our DA’s office and other attorneys. All of this input helped to shape our policy but one vital piece was still missing, and that was the privacy piece. We actively searched for guidance on this and ended up connecting and collaborating with Chad Marlow from the ACLU.
3. Draft a foundational first draft
As mentioned above, we spent a lot of time creating a strong draft of our policy. It was in a good place before we engaged with the ACLU but was missing the meat of the privacy piece. Helpful edits were inevitably made during the collaboration process, but there was a sound, balanced philosophy, unique to Parker, to build on. We took the ACLU’s suggestions and whittled them down to a departmental focus. We asked a lot of questions and pushed back when appropriate.
4. Utilize expert insight to hone policy
At the end of the day, we’re police officers. It’s what we went to the academy to be and what we love to do. Although we study and learn to create policies, it’s not always our expertise. But for people like Chad Marlow at the ACLU, it is their full-time job. They have the knowledge, resources and time to do what we can not always accomplish. When we were missing the privacy piece, we thought: who better to consult on matters of civil liberties than the ACLU? We didn’t necessarily take every suggestion word for word, but we worked together and met in the middle until we had something that made everyone happy. It was a fantastic collaboration.
5. Disseminate policy and train staff
After you have created your body-worn camera policy, it is important that you get buy-in from those who you expect to follow it, since this is a huge change to how they have been doing their job. To gain this buy-in, we involved staff from the very beginning. We asked for feedback, held informational meetings and created a committee of officers who were originally against the use of the cameras, but later became the biggest supporters. Like all important documents, the final policy lives in our document management software, PowerDMS, and we were able to send it electronically to everyone who is going to be affected by it and have them sign off attesting that they had seen it and understand it.
6. Continually improve
Don’t get too comfortable with your policy, because no policy is ever really complete. It is a living document that is constantly being updated based on real-world scenarios, advances in technology, new case law, etc. Be aware that even the best policy, at the moment it is implemented, is going to need to be reexamined and improved. As soon as a policy is published, the next day begins our work on version two. That’s how fast things change. Especially those policies dealing with technology since it is always changing and policies need to be regularly questioned to ensure they are still relevant.
About Lt. Chris Peters
Lt. Chris Peters has served the city of Parker, CO as a member of the police department for over 17 years. Over the years, his service has included patrol, administration, traffic investigation, evidence, crime scene investigations, and most recently as a member of the office of professional standards. He is a graduate of the Senior Management Institute for Police, a program of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), the School of Police Staff and Command offered by Northwestern University, and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration.
Looking for additional help creating your agency’s body-worn camera policy?
Click here to get a copy of Parker PD’s policy in a free trial of PowerDMS. By accessing the policy online, you’ll be able to share it with your team and use it as a template for your own policies moving forward.