In View: Key Trends in BWC Policies: A Two-Year Analysis of Law Enforcement Agencies Funded Through the BJA Policy and Implementation Program

Dr. Michael White, BWC TTA Co-Director and Professor at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University 

 

The CNA Corporation, Arizona State University (ASU), and Justice and Security Strategies (JSS) provide training and technical assistance (TTA) to law enforcement agencies that have received funding for body-worn cameras (BWCs) through the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) BWC Policy and Implementation Program (PIP). Administrative policy review is a central feature of TTA. The TTA team developed a BWC policy review process to assess the comprehensiveness of BWC policies through a BWC Policy Review Scorecard
 
Because the policy review process assesses comprehensiveness only and is not prescriptive, agencies vary in the way they deal with specific key issues. We recently completed an analysis of the BWC policies for 129 police agencies (covering 54 agencies funded in FY 2015 and 75 in FY 2016). Our analysis examined variation across five dynamic areas: activation, deactivation, citizen notification, officer authority to review, and supervisor authority to review. We examined two additional issues for FY 2016 sites only: camera wearing during off-duty assignments and activation during public demonstrations. The full report can be found online here.  
 
We identified 17 key BWC policy trends across these 7  policy considerations. They are listed below.
 
 Activation
(1) All agencies mandate and prohibit activation for certain types of encounters. No agency allows full officer discretion on BWC activation.
(2) Most agencies (60 percent) allow for discretionary activation under certain circumstances.
 
Deactivation
(3) All agencies provide guidance for BWC deactivation. However, officer discretion is more common for deactivation than activation.
(4) Officer discretion in the deactivation decision is more common in the policies of FY 2016 agencies. 
 
Citizen notification
(5) Less than 20 percent of agencies mandate citizen notification of the BWC. 
(6) About 40 percent of agencies recommend, but do not require, citizen notification of the BWC. 
(7) Mandatory notification is less common in the policies of FY 2016 agencies. 
 
Officer authority to review
(8) Nearly all agencies allow officers to review BWC footage for routine report writing.
(9) Less than 30 percent of agencies allow officers unrestricted access to BWC footage during an administrative investigation.
(10) After a critical incident, more than 90 percent of agencies allow officers to review their BWC footage prior to giving a statement. 
 
Supervisor authority to review
(11) Nearly all agencies permit supervisors to review BWC footage for administrative purposes, such as investigation of citizen complaints and use of force. 
(12) Most agencies give supervisors authority to review line officers’ BWC footage to determine compliance with BWC policy and procedures. Nearly all FY 2016 agencies (93 percent) allow for BWC policy compliance checks by supervisors.
(13) Most agencies give supervisors authority to review line officers’ BWC footage for general performance evaluation. Nearly all FY 2016 agencies (93 percent) allow supervisors to access BWC footage to assess officer performance. 
 
Off-duty assignment (FY 2016 only)
(14) The majority of FY 2016 agencies (69 percent) do not address BWC use during off-duty assignments.
(15) Twenty-eight percent of FY 2016 agencies mandate BWC use among officers on off-duty assignments.
 
Activation during demonstrations (FY 2016 only)
(16) The majority of FY 2016 agencies (71 percent) do not address BWC use during public demonstrations.
(17) Just under 20 percent of FY 2016 agencies require activation and recording during public demonstrations.
 
Though our sample may not be representative of police agencies nationally, the report provides insights into trends in key policy areas, as well as some benchmarks for agencies involved in BWC policy development and assessment. This analysis reinforces the idea that BWC policy should be responsive to local circumstances, as well as the needs of local stakeholders. Moreover, BWC policies should continue to evolve as evidence from research emerges, as states weigh in with policy requirements, and as BWC technology changes.  
 
 
Dr. Michael D. White serves as the Co-Director on BWC TTA and is a Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University. He is Associate Director of ASU’s Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety. He is also a Senior Diagnostic Specialist for the Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center and a Senior Subject Matter Expert for the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Smart Policing Initiative. Dr. White has commented extensively in the media on police issues, especially body-worn cameras, including in Scientific American, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, TIME Magazine, NPR, and MSNBC. He also testified about body-worn cameras before the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Dr. White is currently conducting a multi-site randomized controlled trial testing the impact of police officer body-worn cameras in Tempe, Arizona and Spokane, Washington (funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation). He is one of the primary authors of the U.S. Department of Justice Body-Worn Camera Toolkit, and he is author of a U.S. Department of Justice report titled, Police officer body-worn cameras: Assessing the evidence.