Body-worn cameras are emerging as a key tool for law enforcement agencies. Police departments have an opportunity to create strong video evidence, protect officers and provide transparency for communities by capturing activity in the field. However, body-worn cameras are still developing their niche within the law enforcement sector, and agencies must create new policies around the technology.

Policy management software can help agencies handle the policy creation process. Digitizing document management systems lets you create files electronically, distribute them to authorized personnel for editing, track changes and manage versions easily, distribute policies out to officers and collect signatures electronically. With advanced policy management systems at your disposal, the main issue you must worry about is creating the right policies. Three essential issues to keep in mind while establishing body-worn camera policies include:

1. Clearly delineate when cameras will film
If officers have the freedom to turn cameras on and off as they see fit, the technology won’t end up helping build community relationships. If the cameras are on all the time, you’ll have so much footage that you won’t be able to easily sort through it to actually find evidence – not to mention find enough space on hard drives to store it all. If you set formal policies about when cameras must be turned on, officers that fail to film with face discipline – making it difficult to hide any activities. At the same time, it also helps the public get a clear idea of when the cameras will be working.

The right policies can ensure body worn camera programs achieve their full potential.
The right policies can ensure body worn camera programs achieve their full potential.

2. Establish how video will be used
Will footage be admissible as evidence? What incidents will be made available to the public? Will video captured by officers be incorporated into internal disciplinary and officer development strategies? Your policies should answer all of these questions to ensure that the body-worn camera program is able to benefit members of the community and your department.

3. Create storage guidelines
You must establish clear guidelines for how long different types of footage will be stored. Incidents that could become evidence will need to be handled differently than innocuous footage or video that may contribute to officer evaluations. Having clear policies helps you avoid suspicion of only maintaining specific types of content and helps the public understand what to expect from the police.

While the potential benefits of body-worn cameras are significant, these benefits can be undermined by poor communication with officers and the public. Effective policy management establishes clear expectations for all parties and puts a body-worn camera program on a solid foundation.

Looking for additional help creating body-worn camera policy?
Click here to learn how Parker PD created what is being called the best BWC policy in the country.