The Newton County, Georgia, Sheriff’s Office (NCSO) is the primary law enforcement authority in Newton County, Georgia. Newton County began its body-worn camera (BWC) implementation in 2015 when it received its first BWC Policy and Implementation Program (PIP) grant; Newton County received a second BWC PIP grant in 2017 to expand its BWC program.
In-View Commentary for the Commonwealth of Virginia Public Defenders: Effects of Police BWCs on Public Defenders
As the number of law enforcement agencies equipping officers with BWCs increases, so too has the amount of BWC research (Gaub & White, 2020; Lum, Stoltz, Koper, Scherer, & Scherer, 2019; White & Malm, 2020). However, these studies have almost exclusively focused on the effects of the technology on police behavior, policy, and practice. But BWCs have created a ripple effect throughout the criminal justice system, and the effects on other actors—especially in the courtroom—have been noticeably understudied.
Digital evidence integration has become an emerging topic of discussion as law enforcement agencies around the country increasingly deploy body-worn cameras (BWC). Linking data repositories of videos with the relevant case files in order for them to be usable for investigations and prosecutions has become a challenge for many agencies and their justice stakeholders. In direct response to this emerging trend and need, the BWC Training and Technical Assistance (TTA) program has developed various resources that address this topic.
In View Commentary: Prosecutorial and Public Defender Perceptions: Anticipated Impact of Police Body Worn Cameras on Jurors' Decision Making
This research studies how prosecutors and public defenders (PDs) in three counties adapt to body-worn cameras (BWCs) in their everyday practice and the perceived value of BWC video as evidence in their cases. More specifically, the researchers consider prosecutorial and PD notions regarding the effect of BWC footage on jurors’ expectations and the effect of BWCs on juror decision making.
As the implementation of Body-Worn Cameras (BWCs) continues to expand to police agencies across the country, officers are increasingly accepting and, in many cases, demanding the cameras. Police recognize that BWC technology is here to stay, and the majority of communities expect their police departments to adopt them. Still, officers, agencies, and police unions do not uniformly embrace BWCs. Challenges and obstacles remain.
In View Commentary: The Evidentiary Value of Body-Worn Camera Footage: A Survey of Prosecutors and Public Defenders
This In View Commentary examines the perspectives and attitudes of Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs) and Public Defenders (PDs) about body-worn camera (BWC) footage. The study describes their views regarding several benefits and disadvantages of the use of BWCs in a court of law, specifically focusing on the context of time, expectations, and anticipated consequences. This is a summary of a larger report, which can be found here.
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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
In the era of Law & Order, NCIS, Criminal Minds, and other television crime dramas, the public now expects clear and compelling recordings that document the commission of an alleged crime. At a minimum, they expect to see recordings of the arrival of the police on the scene and footage of the person charged with committing the crime. Body-worn camera (BWC) recordings dwell at the intersection of television drama and real life. But despite the popular imagination, BWC footage is not always the end-all and be-all of a case.
Upon learning that a local law enforcement agency was preparing to deploy body-worn cameras (BWCs), we as prosecutors had to wonder what this new evidence would mean to our presentation of cases in court. Would it mean more or less work? More or fewer trials? Better trial outcomes?