In View Commentary: Regional Approaches to Body-Worn Camera Implementation

Lily Robin, CNA Body-Worn Camera Training and Technical Assistance Analyst, with contributions from Joseph Durso, Analyst at Regional Justice Information Service (REJIS), and Chief Jeremy Ihler, Bellefonte Neighbors Police Department in St. Louis, Missouri.

 

The Regional Justice Information Service (REJIS) received a FY 2017 Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Body-Worn Camera (BWC) Policy and Implementation Program (PIP) grant on behalf of eight law enforcement agencies in the St. Louis metropolitan area. REJIS is an Information Technology (IT) firm that serves government agencies, with a heavy focus on police departments. REJIS primarily serves police departments, courts, and jails in the St. Louis area; it also works with agencies spanning Missouri and Illinois. The eight agencies involved in the PIP grant were all prior REJIS customers in the St. Louis area; the departments range in size from 16 to 49 officers. The group includes municipal police departments and one university police department: Bellefontaine Neighbors Police Department, Brentwood Police Department, Bridgeton Police Department, Clayton Police Department, Moline Acres Police Department, Richmond Heights Police Department, Town and County Police Department, and the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) Police Department. Bellefontaine Neighbors Police Department, led by Chief Ihler, is partnering with REJIS to take a lead role in this effort.

Planning

To build the regional group, REJIS surveyed law enforcement agencies that were already a part of the REJIS network about their interest in participating in a regional BWC program. REJIS representatives also spoke with city administration officials, chief executives, participating agency chiefs, and county prosecutors to ensure they had a firm understanding of the timeline and the expectations of BWC group participants. REJIS created a memorandum of understanding with prosecutors to facilitate a smooth working relationship. REJIS analyst Joseph Durso and Bellefonte Neighbors Police Department Chief Jeremy Ihler both stress the importance of ensuring stakeholders clearly understand BWC expectations and how the program works.

After identifying participating agencies, REJIS focused on identifying champions in each department and maintaining communication. Representatives host monthly in-person meetings with all of the participating police departments. These meetings help keep information fresh and people engaged. REJIS scheduled its monthly meetings to coincide with the existing St. Louis Area Police Chiefs Association (SLAPCA) meetings, resulting in nearly perfect attendance. In addition to communicating with each other, participating agencies needed to engage with their community members. REJIS analyst Joe Durso noted that it is difficult to ensure that participating departments are communicating sufficiently with the community and that it was important for REJIS to encourage communication strategies and offer support and guidance. One effective strategy was taking advantage of existing communication pathways. For example, student government groups already exist at UMSL; University Police representatives went to those groups to present on BWCs and request community (student) input. They also encouraged the student government group to disseminate information about the department’s BWC implementation throughout campus. Other agencies took the same approach with existing public relations committees and law enforcement technology committees. REJIS also partnered with the St. Louis Dispatch newspaper. A reporter wrote an article covering the BWC procurement and deployment process and plans to write additional articles about the effort as REJIS progresses.

Policy Development

Bellefontaine Neighbors Police Department Chief Ihler developed a template policy using a variety of sources, including the BWC Training and Technical Assistance (TTA) Scorecard guidelines, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) model policy, and other Missouri law enforcement BWC policies. Chief Ihler noted that the BWC PIP Scorecard process is similar to an accreditation process and suggested that agencies have an accreditation or certification manager involved in policy development. Once the template policy was developed, other participating agencies had the option of using and modifying the policy or developing their own. To ensure coordination and consistency, REJIS staff participated in all policy review phone calls with each agency’s BWC TTA team. This policy development process allows for flexibility between agencies with differing needs while also encouraging consistency, which mitigates liability concerns.

Procurement and Storage

REJIS was less flexible when it came to storage and purchasing. REJIS opted for one vendor, shared onsite storage for all agencies at a centralized data center, and used an existing network to connect each department. Participating in the regional BWC implementation process meant maintaining consistent back-end support. REJIS wanted all agencies to share the same software to avoid redundant or unforeseen technical support costs down the road. Additionally, a shared RFP puts the group in a good negotiating position and allows for economies of scale with purchase. While there are financial benefits to choosing one vendor and storage solution, it requires all participating agencies to agree on one vendor. To relieve tensions around the choice of any particular vendor, REJIS focused on garnering buy-in and being very transparent about the process from the start. REJIS involved the departments in the vendor selection process from the beginning and sought input at every turn. This collaboration was more work at the outset but it guaranteed all agencies would accept the eventual shared vendor choice. REJIS was also clear and upfront about what it could not guarantee. For example, many participating agencies wanted BWCs that would fully integrate with in-car cameras, but there is no single solution that can integrate with all of the agencies’ in-car cameras. REJIS was very clear that the chosen vendor might integrate with an agency’s in-car cameras, but that there are no guarantees.

For the procurement process, REJIS used a modified version of the TTA Request for Proposal (RFP) template provided by the BWC TTA website. REJIS solicited feedback on the RFP from all participating agencies before releasing it. The regional group is currently reviewing proposals and deciding on potential vendors for a field test. Once agencies start testing devices, they will make sure all officers are trained on how to use them. This requirement applies to the officers wearing cameras as well as management staff.

Conclusion

A regional approach to BWC procurement and implementation can mean more work in the early stages of implementation, but it also provides a host of benefits. In terms of procurement, a group of agencies is in a better position to negotiate with vendors than a single agency. Working as a group also helps facilitate regional consistency, a definite plus for prosecutors. Inconsistencies in how agencies use BWCs and release of BWC footage can create problems for prosecution and public perception. In the court system, these discrepancies can be used to argue that BWC use in one agency is inequitable in comparison to another, hence evidence of systemic inequality. The same concept applies to the media and public perception. Regional consistency can safeguard against these liabilities. One of the biggest benefits of a regional approach to BWC procurement and implementation is information sharing. The REJIS group included some agencies that were already looking into BWCs. Agencies that were new to the process benefited from their peers’ experiences. All of the agencies benefit from peer learning and the subject expertise within each agency. For any questions or to be put in contact with REJIS, please reach out to BWCTTA@cna.org.

Lily Robin began working at CNA as a Research Specialist in August 2017 for the Safety and Security Division within the Institute for Public Research. She holds a Master of Public Policy with a concentration in quantitative research methods and social policy analysis from the George Washington University School of Public Police and Public Administration and a Bachelor of the Arts focused on criminal justice and education from New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Studies. During her time at CNA she has provided extensive support to criminal justice projects such as the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Body-worn Camera Policy and Implementation Project, National Public Safety Partnership, and Strategies for Policing Innovation.