Who will wear body-worn cameras and when?
Will all your officers wear body-worn cameras, or only those on certain types of duties, such as patrol?
This may vary depending on the size of your department and how many cameras your department has.
Generally, the ACLU recommends that only “officers with the authority to conduct searches and make arrests shall be permitted to wear a body camera.”
You’ll also need to decide what allowances you will make for undercover or specialized assignments.
Will this policy apply to officers in those situations, or should they defer to a different policy particular to their assignment?
When will cameras be activated and deactivated?
Unlike dashboard cameras, which may automatically switch on when officers turn on lights or sirens, body-worn cameras usually require the officer to activate recording.
Body-worn camera policy must clearly establish when officers are required to switch on and off their cameras.
Think carefully about this. If officers are continuously recording during their whole shift, it may bring up problems of privacy and make officers feel like the department doesn’t trust them.
However, giving officers too much discretion over when to record is also problematic.
In the event that an officer fails to record a controversial incident, citizens or courts may accuse the officer of purposely turning off the camera.
Some of the exact specifications of recording will depend on your department’s equipment and storage capacity.
But many experts, including Chad Marlow from the ACLU, suggest having officers record any interaction with a member of the public.
Your body-worn camera policy will also need to specify the circumstances when an officer can stop recording.
Should officers record in private residences? Interactions with witnesses who wish to remain anonymous? Interactions with crime victims, especially those of a sexual nature? In any of these cases, are they barred from recording in all circumstances or only after an individual asks the officer not to record?
Laying out specific circumstances in your policy can help protect individual privacy.
It can also address the concerns of officers who fear that body-worn cameras will interfere with their work.
What notice does the officer need to give about recording interactions?
In many states, it’s illegal to secretly record someone.
In order to follow these regulations and guard community trust, officers may need to notify people when they’re recording. Your department’s body-worn camera should specify how and when this will happen.
At what point should the officer notify the person that they’re being recorded? Is there a standard verbal notification or some sort of posted notice (e.g. a pin or sticker) near the device?
How will recordings be stored and used?
Body-worn cameras gather hundreds of hours of footage, and your department must decide up front how to store that data. Not every recorded interaction is helpful for law enforcement purposes, and your department probably has limited storage space for digital files.
Here are a few questions to consider:
- How will your department differentiate between relevant and irrelevant footage?
- How will officers flag that footage as relevant?
- How long will your department retain each type of data?
- How will your department use recordings?
- Can officers view recordings prior to filing incident reports or only after a report is written?
Who has access to recordings?
Most people recorded on body-worn cameras will not be suspects of crimes.
Your department’s body-worn camera policy must protect the privacy of citizens caught on tape in routine police work. You also have to decide how to handle public records requests.
A few things to consider:
- Can people in the recordings request access to a copy of the video?
- How and when will you use redaction software to protect people’s identity?
- How will you disclose recordings to public, especially those in active investigations or potentially harmful to the department?
- What safeguards will you put in place to restrict access to the recordings?
Are there any prohibitions to their use?
Body-worn camera technology is always changing, so it’s important for your department to create some overall restrictions to how your officers can use them.
For example, you may prohibit your officers from filming in bathrooms, locker rooms, hospitals, schools, or while they’re in squad cars or on break.
Some departments establish guidelines for future data use, such as prohibiting the use of facial recognition software to gather intelligence on citizens in body-worn camera footage.
Step 3: Evaluate Your Draft
A thorough draft will provide a good foundation for you to discuss your body-worn camera policy with relevant stakeholders inside and outside your department.
This will ensure that you have everything covered and don’t overlook any major issues.
First, share your preliminary draft with General Counsel to get your legal advisors on board and make sure the policy accounts for all local and state laws.
Next, reach out to a policy or body-worn camera expert to review your draft. Experts will help you address complex issues and make sure there aren’t any holes in your plan.
Finally, share your body-worn camera policy draft with your district attorney. Also get input from officers, command staff, IT, and other support staff who will be directly impacted by your agency’s body-worn camera use.
You probably won’t want to share the draft with everyone early on. Instead, invite several key influencers from each group to share their feedback, questions, and concerns.
If you know going into the policy-writing process that there are particularly vocal critics, you may consider inviting them into the process earlier than others.
Step 4: Disseminate and Train
Parker Police Department Lt. Chris Peters says distributing policy and training staff can be the biggest struggle for law enforcement agencies.
“The biggest thing is the buy-in, the staff boots on the ground and how they’re going to react to such a change in how you do your job,” he says.
A policy management software such as PowerDMS can ensure that every one of your officers reads and signs off on your body-worn camera policy.
Reading the policy can help officers see and trust the purpose behind your agency’s body-worn camera use. This trust builds buy-in.
Some agencies choose to start body-worn cameras off with a pilot program. Using a smaller group of officers to test the program may help you further refine your policy and training.
Just like any policy, your body-worn camera policy should be a living, breathing document.
It’s essential that your agency craft effective policy before starting to use body-worn cameras. And as your officers use body-worn cameras in the field, make sure to regularly review and update your policy and procedures.