Body-worn cameras (BWCs) are effective at providing agencies with an additional layer of accountability and transparency. In turn, BWCs help address community concerns, mitigate liability, and often provide the primary evidence to determine whether an officer’s actions were justified in the moment. Not surprisingly, the level of BWC adoption in police departments continues to grow, both because the technology offers many benefits and also because many states now require agencies to use them.
The Camden County, New Jersey, Police Department began its body-worn camera (BWC) program in 2015 with a pilot program. Camden County received its first Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) BWC Policy and Implementation (PIP) grant in 2016 and a second BWC grant in 2017. The agency employs around 650 employees, including 450 sworn officers, and is responsible for providing preventive and reactive policing services for the residents of Camden City, which covers 8.9 square miles and serves a population of 78,000.
A study by the Arizona State University (ASU) Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety published in March 2020 reported that only 34 percent of law enforcement agencies receiving funding through the Bureau of Justice Assistance Body-Worn Camera Policy and Implementation program provide refresher training for their personnel on the use of BWCs. However, a 2015 survey of agencies that had implemented BWCs demonstrated that officers desire and are in need of r
The rapid rollout of body-worn cameras (BWCs) by agencies across the country has been unlike the adoption of any other technology in the history of law enforcement. Societal demand for increased accountability and transparency drove the rollout. Many departments are now hitting full stride with their BWC programs and some are experiencing challenges.
In View: How to Manage the Implementation of your Body-Worn Camera (BWC) Deployment and Improve Outcomes
You have written your policy, you have selected your camera vendor, and you have trained your officers and deployed your cameras. Now what? Will your agency’s deployment be successful? Do you know if it was worth all the time, effort, and resources? Are you able to point out successes to your community and local officials? Are you able to identify challenges and develop solutions? Can you assess implementation progress and improve outcomes to make the deployment more valuable to your agency, your officers, and your community?
As the implementation of body-worn cameras (BWCs) continues in police agencies across the country, there appears to be an increase in acceptance of—and, in many cases, demand for—the technology by officers. Police recognize that BWC technology is here to stay and a majority of communities expect their police departments to adopt them. Still, officers and agencies do not uniformly embrace BWCs. Some officers do not readily “buy-in” to the need for and benefits of BWCs. This In View provides the perspectives of two BWC subject experts who come from different backgrounds—one a former police supervisor and one a current police sergeant.
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.
Police officers tend to have a love/hate relationship with training. Announce that there will be an Active Shooter Scenario-Based Tactical Training, and some will be giddy while others will dread it. The same goes for pursuit training, firearms training, emergency vehicle operations, investigations, and other training opportunities. One consistent response that I have seen in my policing career is that officers will demonstrate universal contempt for anything related to “policy updates” or “new technology” trainings. Many agencies who have been involved with the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s (BJA’s) Body-Worn Camera Policy and Implementation Program (BWC PIP) will routinely note that when they began their process, they did not completely appreciate or understand the complexities and dynamics of BWCs or the need to establish a customized training approach. BWCs are far more than just a new piece of equipment, and the steps of BWC implementation (including the initial decision to explore BWCs, policy development, community outreach, procurement, and implementation) can prove quite challenging to your agency.
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.
As more and more police agencies across the country implement body-worn camera (BWC) programs, many feel that it is just a matter of time before this relatively new technology becomes an expected norm for the police. BWC programs have already demonstrated that implementation and outcome expectations are far more complicated and challenging than initially expected. It is difficult to identify another technology or tool that police have adopted which comes with such heightened public expectations and scrutiny. For example, compared to a department’s introduction of an electronic control device, a new caliber of firearm, or an improved records management system, the public clearly has more significant interest in and expectations of BWCs. However, most of the public and media likely lack a comprehensive understanding and appreciation about the limitations of BWCs. Some in the public who express distrust of the police may hope that BWCs will, “hold the police accountable like never before,” while at the same time there are many police officers who are eager to implement BWCs in hopes that they make clear the daily challenges, responsibilities, and decisions that officers face. Both perspectives are fair and may prove to be correct, and the police are in an excellent position to educate their communities about the complexities and realities of BWCs.