In January 2015, the Boston Police Department (BPD) committed to implement a pilot body worn camera (BWC) program for its officers. This pilot was intended to help answer policy questions about how the system would operate if and when fully implemented across the department’s 2,100 officers and to address concerns of officers and community members on the use of the technology. Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and Boston Police Commissioner William Evans committed to a rigorous evaluation of this pilot program. The BPD implemented its BWC pilot program in September 2016.
In FY 2015, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) funded the Body-Worn Camera (BWC) Training and Technical Assistance (TTA) program to help police agencies and communities implement their BWC Policy Implementation Program (PIP) initiatives and learn lessons from those initiatives for the benefit of other agencies and communities. Since then, the BWC TTA team has responded to over 200 TTA requests, conducted 15 webinars, held 3 regional meetings and 2 national meetings, developed new technical assistance resources, and provided direct technical assistance to over 176 law enforcement agencies across the country.
Through this work, the BWC TTA team has gained a deeper understanding of the complexities and challenges agencies face when implementing a BWC program. Below, we review some of the lessons learned from our BWC PIP agencies over the past two years. These lessons learned should serve as important considerations for agencies just beginning or in the midst of BWC implementation.
1. Have a plan.
As with any new equipment deployment or substantial policy change, agencies must operationally plan how to roll out a BWC program. Planning should be thoughtful, comprehensive, and collaborative, and the plan should include several key factors: identifying program goals, establishing a timeline for deployment, conducting pilot tests, establishing working groups with internal and external representatives, conducting fiscal reviews and preliminary meetings with external stakeholders, reviewing related state legislation, determining staff and technology infrastructure needs, and more (see the BJA BWC Toolkit for guidance on getting started with a BWC program). This planning is fundamental to the implementation process.
2. Be flexible.
Although planning is vital to the successful deployment of BWCs, BWC PIP agencies also stress the importance of remaining flexible throughout the entire implementation process. Plans will change, new state legislation may require policy changes, fiscal changes will occur, equipment may not be as interoperable as promised, and challenges in establishing the infrastructure to support the program will arise. Agencies must be ready to adapt to these uncertainties.
3. Engage internal stakeholders.
Many of the BJA BWC PIP agencies have noted the importance of engaging officers early in the process. Officers should be part of the policy development process, the pilot testing phase, and training development. Actively engaging officers early in the process ensures greater buy-in for the BWC programand greater overall likelihood of success.
4. Engage external stakeholders.
BWC programs must also engage external stakeholdersfrom the community, as well as local government and criminal justice partners such as the prosecutor, city manager, and representatives from the local court system. These stakeholders are essential to the success of the program. Agencies should engage them in the process from the very start.
Agencies seeking to implement BWCs should hold multiple meetings with the community to leverage partners such as the NAACP, ACLU, and victims’ advocates. BWC PIP agencies note the importance of seeking input from the community in the policy development phase and being transparent about each phase of the deployment process. Some agencies have tried various methods (e.g., postcards, online surveys, town hall meetings) to inform, engage, and gather input from their communities.
Criminal justice stakeholders are also vital to a BWC program. Prosecutors are, in many ways, an end user of BWC video. Agencies must work closely with prosecutors to create procedures for efficiently and responsibly transfering and sharing BWC video. Prosecutors and police agencies are beginning to understand the effect BWC footage can have on investigations and prosecutions. Working closely with these partners while implementing BWCs results in better processes and fewer challenges with program management.
Featured webinar: Beyond Arrest: Prosecutor and defense attorney perspectives. Click here to view the webinar
According to the BWC PIP sites, training is integral to ensuring that officers understand the policy and technology. Training should include related state legislation, how to activate, when or when not to activate, how to catalogue and tag videos, reporting requirements, the limitations of the camera technology, and departmental compliance and auditing.
Furthermore, agencies should consider using BWC footage for training. Agencies like the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, the San Antonio, Texas Police Department, and the Sturgis, Michigan, Police Department frequently use BWC footage to showcase best practices and areas for improved tactics and decision-making skills.The BWC TTA team developed a Training Guide as a resource for law enforcement agencies seeking to develop or modify their BWC training programs. The guide provides police instructors with a standardized BWC training template that includes an introduction to issues surrounding the development of BWCs, BWC specifications and operations (which vary by vendor), key issues in policy and practice, and topics related to agency accountability.
Agencies should also consider including community representatives in these training sessions or conducting separate training sessions for the media and public. Not only will these sessions encourage transparency and community buy-in, they will also serve as a means for the public to get an up-close look at how police use BWCs in the field.
Featured webinar: A Spotlight on BWCs and Training. Click here to view the webinar
6. Engage with a research partner.
Though working with a research partner is not a PIP requirement, many funded agencies have engaged with research entities to conduct process evaluations, impact evaluations, or both. Research partners can be a valuable resource during program planning, implementation, and ongoing program management. They can also independently and rigorously assess the BWC program.
Finally, BWC PIP agencies stress the importance of auditing BWC footage. Once BWCs are deployed, agencies should periodically review and audit videos to ensuring officers use BWCs according to departmental policy. BWC footage can also be used to evaluate performance, highlight training opportunities, and identify areas for department-wide policy and procedure changes.
Featured webinar: Considering The Issues Around Assessing Officer Compliance. Click here to view the webinar
With the implementation of BWCs across the country increasing rapidly, there has been little attention devoted to the deployment of BWCs by small agencies, and as a result, our understanding of the challenges of cameras in the small agency context is limited. In order to better understand how BWCs affect small agencies, researchers at Arizona State University conducted a multi-state survey of small law enforcement agency executives. The survey, which was administered via the online survey platform Qualtrics, was sent to all jurisdictions with a population of 8,000 or more in 26 states.
Laws governing how and when police body-worn cameras can be used and whether the footage is released vary considerably across the country. The BWC legislation tracker can be used to find out about passed and pending laws in your state. The tracker will be updated periodically as state laws change.
To view the BWC legislation tracker, click here.
Many community stakeholders and criminal justice leaders have suggested placing body-worn cameras (BWCs) on police officers improves the civility of police-citizen encounters and enhances citizen perceptions of police transparency and legitimacy. In response, many police departments have adopted this technology to improve the quality of policing in their communities. However, the existing evaluation evidence on the intended and unintended consequences of outfitting police officers with BWCs is still developing.
In an effort to improve accountability and citizen confidence in the police department,Chief Harteau and the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), decided to evaluate the use of body worn cameras by officers. Staff researched and a conducted a product search for body worn cameras. Research included the gathering of information on policies, best practices, required infrastructure, devices, costs and operational support.
This commentary represents a compilation of the thoughts and suggestions of a number of individuals involved in body-worn camera research and technical assistance, including the following: Michael White, PhD, Arizona State University; John D. Markovic, Bureau of Justice Assistance; Brett Chapman, PhD, National Institute of Justice; Denise Rodriguez, CNA; Craig Uchida, PhD, Justice and Security Strategies; and Anthony Braga, PhD, Northeastern University, among others.
The purpose of this paper is to assess perceptions of body-worn cameras (BWCs) among citizens who had BWC-recorded police encounters, and to explore the potential for a civilizing effect on citizen behavior. From June to November 2015, the authors conducted telephone interviews with 249 citizens in Spokane (WA) who had a recent BWC-recorded police encounter. Respondents were satisfied with how they were treated during the police encounter and, overall, had positive attitudes about BWCs. However, only 28 percent of respondents were actually aware of the BWC during their own encounter.
Changes made within policing carry significant downstream implications for the rest of the criminal justice system and for surrounding communities. The relatively recent expansion in police body-worn camera (BWC) programs across U.S. police agencies represents one such change that will have a wide impact on stakeholders both inside and outside the system. We investigated perceptions of BWCs among stakeholders external to two police departments that recently deployed the new technology.