The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) was established in 1973 and is a joint city-county police force for the City of Las Vegas and Clark County, Nevada. With a sworn police force of over 3,000 officers, LVMPD serves over 2.2 million people. In FY 2015, LVMPD received a Body-Worn Camera Policy and Implementation Program award of $250,000 to purchase over 250 cameras. As one of the first agencies to implement BWCs, LVMPD has become an innovative leader in many aspects of BWC implementation, including policy development, research and evaluation, and BWC technology management.
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: Embracing Communication with the Public and Media: A Key Component of a Successful Body-Worn Camera Program
Officer-involved critical incidents often lead to turmoil and chaos for a community. They can leave officers feeling frustrated and even resentful of the perceived lack of support and leave citizens feeling angry and suspicious of their police department. While there is no easy fix for this type of divide, there are steps an agency can take to heal after such an ordeal or to prevent the conflict altogether. The foundation is holding good communication as a core value of your organization. Of course, good communication involves listening as well as messaging.
There have been a number of high profile incidents in recent years in which officers failed to activate their cameras until after the most critical moments have passed. For instance, in July 2017 Justine Diamond was shot in Minneapolis after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault.  In September 2016, an unarmed man was shot after crashing his motorcycle into the passenger side of a police cruiser.These incidents received nationwide coverage and resulted in widespread protest. They significantly affected the trust between law enforcement and their communities nationwide.
Automatic camera initiation, or auto-trigger technology, is one tool that agencies can use to ensure that body-worn camera (BWC) systems are activated when needed. It is important to note that this is just one tool available for this purpose; it is not the only tool. Recent news coverage suggests that some agencies using this technology are pleased with it. Other agencies have pursued alternate methods to ensure cameras are activated when needed.
What is auto-trigger technology? How does it work? What considerations are important when deciding whether to adopt auto-trigger technology?
Auto-trigger technology automatically activates one or more BWCs, relying on several different keying mechanisms. An auto-trigger mechanism typically activates a BWC automatically based on certain actions, including the following:
- When an officer pulls a weapon from a holster
- When a cruiser moves over a specific speed
- When a cruiser runs with lights or siren
- When multiple BWC cameras are within close proximity to an activated camera
- When a cruiser door is opened
- When an officer is running
- When an officer issues specific verbal commands
- When an officer enters a specific geographic area
These systems often require sensors placed or built into the cruiser, holster, or camera. They may also require a special addition to the basic vendor-provided services. Some vendors include them in their basic pricing; others charge extra for the sensors and service.
BWC auto-trigger technology is not new. At least six vendors now offer it; some have done so for nearly five years.
A quick scan of the news stories around these auto-trigger systems indicates that those agencies that have them seem to be happy with them. The agencies are reasonably confident that the automatic triggers, when combined with agency policies, will ensure that BWC video is captured for almost every critical incident. In a recent news article, Austin, Texas, Police Commander Brent Dupre stated, “When an officer exits the vehicle, that trigger sends a ”Bluetooth burst” and will actually activate any camera that is within range. Rest assured that if you’re sitting inside the car or stepping out of your door, it is going to activate that camera and any camera around it.” Dupre said the department was interested in having officers wear BWCs to provide more accountability and make the public feel more comfortable. Another large metropolitan law enforcement agency stated in a recent discussion that it wants the auto-triggers to ensure that all critical incidents have BWC video. It wanted to eliminate the possibility of human error affecting such recordings.
Other agencies have different perspectives. In talking with representatives from a few law enforcement agencies that have BWC and decided not to purchase the auto-trigger technologies, several explanations emerged. Some stated that the technology is not necessary in their agency. They felt that their policies were strong enough to ensure that each officer would turn on the camera for any incident requiring BWC video. Several said that they felt that the presence of the auto-triggers could make the officers complacent, causing them to rely on the triggers to do what they should be doing themselves. They believe that with proper training and practice, self-initiating the BWC should be part of each officer’s “muscle memory.”
As an alternative to auto-triggers, at least two large urban law enforcement agencies under the 2015 Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC grant program have initiated dispatcher messaging as part of the standard dispatch scripts to ensure that the officer does initiate the BWC (i.e., the dispatcher reminds the officer one or more times to activate the BWC). They believe that these messages boost policy compliance while also building muscle memory to ensure that the BWC is recording when required.
Some agencies are quick to point to risks or problems with auto-trigger technology. Primarily, they are wary of instances when an auto-trigger device on one camera triggers a number of other cameras unnecessarily, including the following:
- All cameras in a station activating as an officer drives by on the way to a call for service
- Cameras activating in nearby restaurants as officers have lunch, or even while using the restroom
- Cameras activating during meetings with confidential informants that happen to be close enough to an unrelated call for service
Additionally, if an officer is not aware that their camera was auto-triggered, he or she could take the following incorrect actions:
- Accidentally turn the camera off, in an attempt to manually activate the camera
- Leave the camera activated for an extended period, filming random events that will take up significant storage space and eventually need to be deleted
Overall, there is no one right answer to whether to use auto-trigger technology. A number of factors can be weighed in the decision, including the following:
- Specific triggers and technology offered by the BWC vendor
- The effectiveness of agency policy
- Community input
- Agency risk profile, particularly instances of previous critical events that were not captured
- What will actually work for your agency?
We very much welcome more thoughts and feedback on this topic. Please feel free to send your thoughts, feedback, and experiences to email@example.com. Please indicate if we may share your feedback in a future article (with or without attribution).
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
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.
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?
Although body-worn cameras (BWCs) can increase police accountability, they also can encroach on victim privacy and interfere with confidential communications. BWCs record sensitive information, the public release of which could be emotionally devastating and/or dangerous to a victim. The goal of every police department is to develop BWC policies and procedures that protect a victim’s right to privacy and confidentiality, limit the number of individuals that can review the recording, and limit an officer’s ability to manipulate a recording for self-serving reasons.
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.