The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Body-Worn Camera (BWC) Policy and Implementation Program (PIP) has awarded grants to seven tribal communities across the United States from 2015 through 2018, totaling just over $589,000. Grantee departments have used the funds to purchase approximately 405 BWCs. This In View spotlights the experience of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians Tribal Police Department (LTBB PD), Michigan. The LTBB PD is a federally recognized Indian tribe that received a FY 2016 BJA BWC PIP grant.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Each jurisdiction and law enforcement agency that deploys body-worn cameras (BWCs) has a unique history, police culture, and circumstances. Community voices, like advocacy and faith-based organizations, police advisory groups, the media, social service organizations, and other community stakeholders, are important to consider when deploying BWCs. In some jurisdictions, these voices have provided the impetus for a program, scrutinized operations, and moved BWC policies in the direction of greater transparency.
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department
In 2009, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) faced increased public scrutiny after a series of police shootings, many of which involved unarmed suspects. This concern led LVMPD to seek out US Department of Justice (DOJ) support to enact change. DOJ supported LVMPD in updating their policies, procedures, and training to better prepare officers to make decisions about the application of deadly force. Many members of the public were skeptical about LVMPD’s reporting of the facts about critical incidents that resulted in death. Many believed that incident descriptions written by police would nearly always justify the deadly force application. So, local advocacy groups recommended that, in addition to changing the agency’s use of force policy and training, LVMPD adopt BWCs. Consistent with recommendations that BWC programs be carefully implemented though pilot programs, an approach then being promoted by police organizations and DOJ, LVMPD elected to deploy BWCs in a limited manner to first test feasibility and effects before moving forward with wider deployment.
DOJ subsequently funded research by CNA, which incorporated a randomized experimental design, to assess the effects of BWCs on the number of citizen complaints and use of force incidents by officers. The research also addressed cost-benefit analysis. In 2017, CNA reported its findings, which revealed significant reductions in complaints against officers and use of force incidents. The study also pointed to reductions in the time and resources required to investigate and resolve complaints and use of force incidents for the officers wearing cameras. These reductions produced substantial cost savings for LVMPD.
While community members found some comfort in these findings, many citizens still raised concerns about whether LVMPD sufficiently enforced camera activation during citizen encounters, especially those involving use of force. Gary Peck, representing the local chapter of the NAACP, praised LVMPD for its deployment and participation in the study but expressed specific concerns about how LVMPD was ensuring compliance with camera activation requirements.
In response to these concerns, LVMPD has aggressively addressed transparency concerns in its handling and release of videos. For example, LVMPD moves swiftly after a critical incident, often making video footage of a critical incident resulting in death available within 72 hours. A senior official, sometimes the sheriff, narrates the public release of the footage at a press conference, explaining the situation and providing context. This practice has some exceptions, but it is generally followed and is now a community expectation. This practice not only provides more transparency; it builds community trust. LVMPD officials believe this approach often provides the department the benefit of the doubt when questionable or controversial shootings occur. These steps have quieted community concerns and changed public expectations.
Albuquerque Police Department
The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) began using BWCs in 2010, encouraged in part by community voices advocating for police reform. Chief among community concerns were perceptions of inappropriate use of force, especially toward mentally unstable and homeless populations. APD became one of the first major police departments to deploy BWC technology. In 2012, the department issued special orders requiring all officers to activate their BWCs during citizen encounters. In early 2015, local advocates continued to raise concerns about the consistency of BWC use by officers. That same year, researchers from the University of New Mexico studied the program’s implementation. They concluded that officers were confused by the BWC policy and that there were uneven patterns in camera activations for citizen encounters.
In September 2015, the Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded APD a $250,000 BWC grant, which allowed the department to update its technology and revise its BWC policy.
In 2016, media reports suggested that APD staff tampered with video footage, raising concerns about the integrity of APD-provided video footage. APD later issued a report indicating that there was no evidence that original footage of any critical incident was altered, but it was inconclusive as to whether copies distributed to others were altered. This report did little to restore community confidence.
Following a change in administration and the appointment of a new chief of police, the department renewed efforts to enhance community engagement. Today, APD is revisiting its BWC policies to expedite video release when possible. Albuquerque’s six Community Policing Councils, covering each of APD’s command areas, are being encouraged to provide input to these revised policies as well.
Chris Sylvan, who coordinates community outreach efforts for APD, said, “Most residents are now very supportive of the body-worn camera program and question more and more why the local sheriff’s department and suburban jurisdictions don’t require their officers to wear them.”
Community voices in Albuquerque will likely continue to serve in a “watch dog” role in the APD’s BWC program and will help shape future policy to enhance transparency.
The examples presented here illustrate the journeys of two departments with BWCs. Every department’s journey is different, but there are some commonalities. Community concerns usually focus on compliance with activation requirements, timing of the release of video footage for critical incidents, and the overall integrity of the program operations. Studies in these and other jurisdictions suggest that communities tend to support BWC deployment and expansion, particularly when community input is sought and considered. Insights from the APD and LVMPD deployments, findings from the 2017 Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) study on community perceptions of BWCs, and other works suggest the following:
- Community voices often play a major role in the impetus for BWC programs and often provide continued support during ongoing operations.
- Community voices can play a “watch dog” role and sound alarms when the BWC program implementation is out of alignment with program goals and community considerations.
- Community voices can play a meaningful role in shaping BWC policy by offering citizen perspectives and building public support.
- Community voices can be called upon for specific input on privacy parameters, guidance for video release, and the policies and rules for emerging related technologies (e.g., drones).
- Community voices generally support BWC programs, but they do not view these programs as panaceas for broader police performance and trust issues.
- Police should embrace the community as a valued partner in the planning, implementation, and ongoing management of BWC programs.
In April 2018, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and its civilian-member Board of Police Commissioners made a major change to its body-worn camera (BWC) policy: the department will release video footage in ”critical incidents.”
A year in the making, the new policy applies to: 1) officer-involved shootings, 2) a use of force leading to death or serious injury, 3) all in-custody deaths, and 4) any other police encounter for which releasing the video is in the public interest. The department will release footage within 45 days of the incident. The policy includes protections for juveniles and victims of specific crimes, defines privacy considerations, takes into account the safety of officers and witnesses, and protects the integrity of active investigations, confidential sources, and constitutional rights of the accused.
What are the ramifications for the LAPD and for the rest of the country with this shift in policy? Will it create problems for ongoing investigations? Will it improve the perception of transparency and accountability? Does it violate the right to privacy? Does the policy go far enough—or too far? How will we know if it is effective? Definitive answers to these questions will not be known for some time, but the questions are important to the police, the public, and policies that are being drawn up and followed throughout the country.
Will the release of video footage create problems for on-going investigations?
It is possible that the release of footage could create problems for investigations, but not to the degree that police think. The release of information to the public about a critical event often raises concerns because police and prosecutors fear a “trial in the media” or fear that people will be biased against a suspect or an officer and thus make it difficult to seat a fair and impartial jury, but these fears do not always manifest themselves and are hard to quantify. In a courtroom setting (if a case is filed), voir dire allows for questioning of potential jurors about their biases and preconceptions.
Further, video footage is only one facet of an investigation of an officer-involved shooting or other critical event. Many other parts of the investigations need not be released. For example, the department may be informed more by eyewitnesses and statements from bystanders and the officers involved, there might be more extensive physical evidence, and there could be other factors in an incident that remain closed to the public.
Video footage may not—and probably will not—tell the full story of a critical event. The camera does not see everything that an officer sees. The location of the camera (on the officer's chest, shoulder, or sunglasses), and the officer’s position during an event, determine what the camera will capture. People, houses, or vehicles to the left or to the right of an officer may not be videotaped because the officer did not turn in that direction. The lighting could be poor; the sound could be inaudible. Thus, other evidence provides important context for what happened and why.
Will it improve the perception of transparency and accountability?
It should, because it addresses critical incidents—those that the public has the most concerns about. The impetus for equipping police officers with BWCs burgeoned following the tragic events of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014. At the time, BWCs were touted as the means to promote greater transparency and a basis for building trust between the police and the community. This rationale created expectations that police departments would release BWC footage immediately after a critical event, such as an officer-involved shooting.
But we soon learned that it is not quite that simple. There are implications relative to public interest versus the judicial process of adjudicating an incident, all of which are surrounded by the need for privacy considerations and the need to solve cases. Prosecutors and the police were wedded to the notion that if there is a pending criminal investigation, all bets were off relating to the release of what was considered evidentiary material, but this perspective has changed. Police agencies and officers are more accustomed to using cameras and reviewing footage after making arrests. Further, they are seeing the positive results of the presence of cameras as civilian complaints and uses of force decline.
The release of footage for critical incidents appears to be a part of the evolution of the acceptance of BWCs and, more importantly, suggests that transparency and accountability are perhaps more important than evidentiary considerations. San Diego Deputy District Attorney Damon Mosler provides a prosecutor’s perspective on the evidentiary value of BWC footage in a separate In View Commentary.
Does the policy violate the right to privacy?
It appears that the answer is ”no,”’ as the policy protects individuals including officers, bystanders, and witnesses. There should always be certain protections afforded to the individuals involved, including the officer and his or her family, the victims or survivors of a police incident, those who are willing to come forward as witnesses, and those who are inadvertently involved. Technology that effectively redacts video and audio, while not perfect, is available and can protect individuals. By limiting the release of footage to critical incidents, rather than all encounters, the need to redact every frame for every incident is not an issue. The chances of a person being identified through voice or sight are considerably reduced.
Does the policy go far enough—or too far?
To some, the policy does not go far enough. To others, it goes too far. Some advocates want all video footage released regardless of its importance or value. The argument here is for total transparency, granting the public the ability to hear, see, and assess the behavior of all police officers in every encounter. Others strongly hold to the belief that investigations and privacy should not be compromised or outbalanced by transparency and accountability; releasing video will lead to cases “lost” and privacy diminished.
Releasing all video places massive burdens cities and police departments. The technology supporting review, redaction, and release of video has not caught up with the proliferation of videos; as a result, reviewing, redacting, and releasing all footage is an extremely labor-intensive and costly enterprise that has not been accounted for in the staffing and budgeting patterns that support BWCs. Consider that at a single critical event, 50 or more videos may be recorded and would need to be addressed.
How will we know about the effectiveness of the policy?
Effectiveness is measured in terms of implementation and impact, and through rigorous research. While protocols for implementation have not yet been written, this step is critical. We will see what happens as the LAPD rolls out an implementation plan.
“Upon further review…”
Of the five largest police departments in the country, the LAPD is the first to lay out specific guidelines for releasing video footage for critical events. The policy reads: "It is the policy of the Los Angeles Police Department that video evidence in the Department's possession of critical incidents involving LAPD officers be released to the public within 45 days of the incident."
When we compared LAPD's policy to those of the New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Houston police departments, we found that the LAPD policy goes further in defining critical incidents, video sources, privacy protections, notifications of persons who are in the video, and date of release. In the largest departments—New York and Chicago—release of video footage is dependent upon the type of incident and Freedom of Information Act requirements (New York) or state law (Chicago). In both jurisdictions, individuals may request footage, but there are specific requirements for obtaining the footage. In a high-profile case, the New York Police Department and Attorney General will confer about its release, but there is no mandate for release of video footage. The Brennan Center shows the breadth of policies regarding the release of video.
The LAPD policy could serve as a model for other large agencies, but its ramifications need to be carefully studied. Answering these empirical questions would significantly further our understanding of transparency, accountability, and privacy.
When police officers hear or read the word, “compliance” as it relates to policy, what often comes to mind is, “what do I have to do to avoid getting into trouble?” For various reasons, compliance appears to be somewhat more challenging for police agencies when it comes to their body-worn camera (BWC) programs. We are all learning that introducing BWCs entails much more than just providing officers a new technology. Numerous challenges and dynamics present themselves when agencies implement their BWCs, including costs, storage, community expectations, officer concerns, coordinating with prosecutors, and ensuring organizational compliance to policy, to name a few.
The policing profession receives a great deal of public scrutiny and input from various sources regarding expectations for behavior and conduct. Despite some public and media narratives, in my experience, police officers overwhelmingly want to “get it right” when it comes to appropriate conduct. The reality is that there are few, if any, other professions that provide such detailed, prescribed, and mandated rules and regulations (policy) for how their employees must behave while also outlining the consequences for failing to behave appropriately. Despite some perceptions, the law enforcement profession has a tremendous amount of checks and balances in place for accountability. More and more agencies recognize that BWCs provide a platform for demonstrating this responsibility. We are finding that while officers were once skeptical or resistant to wearing BWCs, those same officers now insist on having them as part of their everyday toolkit. An FY 2015 Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Policy and Implementation Project (PIP) site notes that it has seen significant changes, with officers embracing—and now even demanding—BWCs, leading to improvements with organizational compliance. The site even goes as far as having its dispatchers verbally remind the officers to activate their BWCs when they arrive on scene to a call to help ensure higher rates of compliance.
Compliance with policy is needed for several reasons, including the following:
- Provide a clear understanding of the organization’s expectations for the officers behavior
- Demonstrate to the community that police are accountable, and have specific rules and guidelines that they must follow in order not to abuse the powers that they possess
- Help officers navigate all the tasks, responsibilities, and complexities they face with the support of their department
Throughout the first three years of the BWC PIP grant program, agencies continued to identify the topic of compliance as complex and challenging for their BWC programs.
SOUND AND PROMISING PRACTICES
As with most policy adherence challenges, BWC compliance can be broken down into several identifiable and influencing factors, including, but not limited to:
- Identifying the Issue
Identifying the Issue – As simple as it sounds, it is imperative to determine why officers and staff are not complying with BWC policy before action can be taken to address the issue. Identifying the root causes of and contributors to noncompliance may take some effort and strategy. For example, what are the specific reasons that officers have difficulty complying with (or are unwilling to comply with) such BWC policy components as activation, notification, equipment familiarity, categorization, or storage? The issue may have to do with training, with the way the policy is written, or with equipment problems; it may be self-evident or it may take some digging and outreach to officers.
Policy – Feedback from numerous sites indicates that the clarity of an agency’s policy may be the most significant contributor to noncompliance. Do not underestimate the importance of establishing a comprehensive policy that is clear, concise, detailed, and very specific to your agency’s capacities. Obtain input and feedback from the ranks on their ability to comprehend and capability to follow the policy requirements. Understand and embrace that a sound policy is fluid and should be receptive to revisions and updates. Also consider that a policy which allows for a great deal of officer discretion will likely result in variations in officer compliance. Finally, consider that BWC policy should be periodically reviewed and updated as necessary, as the technology, related state regulations, and case law are subject to change.
Training – Inadequate training has been identified as a significant contributor for some agencies who experience BWC compliance issues. Good training practices start off by demonstrating, emphasizing, and reinforcing the importance of BWC policy adherence for both the organization and the individual officer directly from the highest levels of the organization. Educating your organization that BWCs are more than just “another technology” can be challenging, but we have seen numerous recent national examples where officers and departments were scrutinized, criticized, and disciplined for compliance failure issues related to BWC activation. Training on BWC policy requirements should begin with organizational implementation, include pre-service training, and be reinforced by in-service trainings with periodic and consistent updates. Recognize the value of scenario-based training with BWC activation and build it into pre-service and in-service tactical trainings. This will reinforce muscle memory and BWC activation while under stress. Agencies should also consider the effect of actual BWC video footage as a training aid. Observing colleagues exhibiting positive behavior can have a significant effect on less-experienced officers who may lack confidence but are unwilling to ask for help.
Supervision – Chiefs and supervisors should determine whether the officers understand the benefits of having BWCs, decide if noncompliance is related to fear and mistrust of them, and address that mistrust directly by communicating with the officers. Supervisors should also consider the fact that officers may lack confidence to record their actions; this may be connected to a lack of job knowledge.
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 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
Recent years have seen a number of new research studies addressing the effects of body-worn cameras (BWCs). Several of these studies implemented randomized controlled designs, the strongest designs available to detect the effect of BWCs with high confidence. Under randomized designs, researchers randomly assign an intervention (in this case, BWCs) to a treatment group of officers (those with BWCs) and a control group of officers (those without BWCs). If they implement the randomization correctly, then there is no real difference between the treatment and control groups, except that one received the intervention (BWCs) and the other did not. As a result, we can confidently attribute any observed differences in the outcomes of interest between these two groups to BWCs.
Somewhat vexing is the fact that these rigorous studies have produced different findings. For example, a study in Rialto, California, found dramatic reductions in use of force incidents and complaints against officers after the introduction of BWCs.  Other studies in Mesa, Arizona ; Orlando, Florida ; Phoenix, Arizona ; and Spokane, Washington  produced similar findings regarding the direction of the influence of BWCs—use of force incidents and complaints were reduced—but the reductions were not so dramatic. These studies also found positive outcomes regarding citizen approval of BWCs and positive effects of BWCs on citizen views of police legitimacy. More recently, other studies produced different findings. A study in the United Kingdom found increases in assaults on officers wearing BWCs , and a recent study of BWCs in the Metropolitan Washington, DC, Police Department  found no differences between treatment and control groups regarding use of force incidents and complaints against police.
What are policy-makers and practitioners to make of these different findings, and why do rigorous scientific research designs produce such different findings? Here we provide some suggestions for how to interpret the recent findings on the effects of BWCs. We focus on three important issues: jurisdictional differences in context, contamination in randomized studies, and compliance with BWC policies.
Jurisdictional differences. Rigorous studies of BWCs do not always arrive at the same conclusions about the effects of BWCs because real differences exist among jurisdictions. Simply put, the implementation of BWCs is likely to be different in Rialto, California, and Washington, DC—the communities are different, the histories of police-civilian relationships are different, and the actual implementation of BWCs in each agency might have been different. For example, the implementation of BWCs in Washington, DC occurred after several years of scrutiny and improvements in police operations under a consent decree. This was not the case in Rialto. Thus, it is reasonable to expect more dramatic changes in police-civilian relations after the implementation of BWCs in Rialto than in Washington, where good relations may have already existed. If the baseline frequency of use of force incidents and complaints against police are low at the outset of an experiment with BWCs, large reductions after BWC implementation are less likely.
Contamination. One concern with randomized experiments is the contamination issue, which occurs when members of a control group become exposed to the treatment group intervention such that their behavior becomes more like the members of the treatment group. In the case of BWC experiments, if control group (non-camera-wearing) officers are frequently exposed to treatment group (camera-wearing) officers, the control officers will likely react to the presence of the BWCs and act more like they are wearing BWCs themselves. This occurs, for example, when a camera-wearing and a non-camera-wearing officer arrive at the location of the same call for service. In this instance, the non-camera-wearing officer, if he or she notices the camera-wearing officer (or if the camera-wearing officer lets the other officer know a camera is present), may change his or her behavior during the incident. If such contamination happens often, the conditions of the experiment—separation of the treatment and control group—are lost or diminished, and differences between treatment and control groups will be less likely. In the case of a recent randomized BWC study in Las Vegas, Nevada , researchers determined that contamination between treatment and control officers occurred less than 20 percent of the time, and they found significant differences between the groups. In the Washington, DC study, in which differences between treatment and control officers were not found, researchers reported up to 70 percent contamination. Thus, contamination is an important factor to consider when reviewing research results.
Policy compliance. Another important factor to consider when reviewing BWC research results is policy compliance. BWC policies typically provide guidance to officers on when to activate and when to deactivate BWCs, and whether officers are required to (or advised to) inform civilians that the incident is being recorded. If officers are required to turn their cameras on at certain times and notify civilians of the BWC, and they do not do so on regular basis, then there is a noncompliance issue—officers are not routinely following policy. If officers are noncompliant with BWC policy a majority of the time, the conditions of the experiment are again weakened. Either the camera is not operating, or the civilians do not know the camera is present, or both, in which case the hypothesized “civilizing” effect of the camera is negated. Thus, it is possible to implement an experiment with good randomization between treatment and control groups, and low contamination, but lose the desired effects of the cameras as a result of compliance problems. In our work with BWC technical assistance and through our involvement with BWC research, we have seen wide differences in BWC compliance in different jurisdictions— ranging from less than 40 percent compliance in one, to over 90 percent compliance in another. Recently, the Metropolitan Washington, DC, Police Department reported a compliance rate of approximately 65 percent for BWC activation. This too may have contributed to the finding of no differences between treatment and control groups in that study.
We have illustrated several important features of BWC programs and BWC research projects that readers and research consumers should keep in mind when interpreting BWC research results: jurisdictional differences, contamination issues, and compliance issues. To be sure, these are not simple, clear-cut issues. It is possible to have low contamination or low compliance and still find no differences between treatment and control officers, and it is possible to have high contamination and still find differences between treatment and control officers. Even if these factors are well managed and controlled for in BWC research, it is possible that jurisdictional differences (e.g., different use of force and complaint baselines) will drive the research results.
Complexities such as these make clear the need for replication in the sciences. Studies must be done repeatedly under different conditions in different jurisdictions to amass a large body of scientific evidence on which to base decisions and judgements. BWC research has not yet reached this point, though the limited body of evidence in existence points to the conclusion that BWCs are beneficial to the police and their communities. Still, research and analysis must continue, with strong scrutiny of the results, to sort out these confounding issues.
 Ariel, Barak, Tony Farrar, and Alex Sutherland, “The Effect of Police Body-Worn Cameras on Use of Force and Citizens’ Complaints Against the Police: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” Journal of Quantitative Criminology 31(2015): 1–27.
 Mesa Police Department, On-Officer Body Camera System: Program Evaluation and Recommendations (Mesa, AZ: Mesa Police Department, 2013)
 Jennings, Wesley G., Mathew D. Lynch, and Lorie Fridell, “Evaluating the impact of police officer body-worn cameras (BWCs) on response-to-resistance and serious external complaints: Evidence from the Orlando Police Department (OPD) experience utilizing a randomized controlled experiment,” Journal of Criminal Justice 43 (2015): 480–486.
 Hedberg, Eric C., Charles M. Katz, and David E. Choate, “Body-worn cameras and citizen interactions with police officers: Estimating plausible effects given varying compliance levels,” Justice Quarterly 34 (2017): 627-651
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to reduce violence in police-citizen encounters” (forthcoming), Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, doi:10.1093/police/paw057.
 Ariel, Barak, Alex Sutherland, Darren Henstock, Josh Young, Paul Drover, Jayne Sykes, Simon Magicks, and Ryan Henderson, “Wearing Body-Cameras Increases Assaults Against Officers and Do Not Reduce Police-Use of Force: Results from a Global Multisite Experiment,” European Journal of Criminology 13a (2016): 744-755.
 Yokum, David, Anita Ravishankar, and Alexander Coppock, “Evaluating the Effects of Police Body Worn Cameras: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” The Lab @ DC, Office of the City Administrator, Executive Office of the Mayor, Washington, DC, October 20, 2017.
 Sousa, William, James R. Coldren Jr., Denise Rodriguez, and Anthony A. Braga, “Research on Body Worn Cameras: Meeting the Challenges of Police Operations, Program Implementation, and Randomized Controlled Trial Designs,” Police Quarterly 0(0): 1–22.
 Office of Police Complaints, “Annual Report 2017,” Government of the District of Columbia, Police Complaints Board, 18-19.
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.
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?
In summer 2015, my department received a complaint from a citizen that she had been sexually assaulted by one of my officers while the officer cited her for larceny. The complainant would not come to police headquarters, but instead provided her account by phone. The Internal Affairs Commander began an investigation and, two hours later, I learned that the officer was one of three in our department who was field-testing and evaluating a body-worn camera (BWC), and that the entire incident had been captured on a BWC.