As police departments across the United States embrace the use of police body-worn cameras (“BWCs”), it is imperative that prosecutors be involved in the uptake process as early as possible. The cameras will inevitably capture a great deal of evidentiary material that will be used in every type of criminal prosecution. Thus, systems and policies must be developed to ensure that this evidence is properly captured and delivered to the prosecutor in a timely and usable way.
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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.
This webinar focused on addressing the challenges that agencies and officers can experience when initially implementing a BWC program, especially regarding officer concerns, questions, and hesitations. Panelists highlighted the importance of having officers directly involved in the initial processes when an agency is considering implementing BWCs.
The value of body-worn camera (BWC) footage as evidence and the challenges and opportunities it affords case processing are, as yet, relatively unexplored. The current research examines the impact of BWC footage on prosecutors and defense attorneys in three jurisdictions: Monroe County, New York; San Diego County, California; and Travis County, Texas. We explore variations across the two groups (assistant district attorneys/public defenders) in terms of time, expectations, and anticipated consequences of BWC on their respective work in processing cases in local courts.
As a part of the Body-Worn Camera (BWC) Training and Technical Assistance (TTA) Program, funded sites can request an on-site TTA meeting. During these meetings, sites receive assistance and presentations from CNA’s cadre of subject experts on topics relevant to their departments. These topics range from community and media engagement, data management, and public release issues to prosecutor engagement, training, and officer buy-in. The subject experts in attendance facilitate the presentations and encourage discussion among the audience.
This webinar featured National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) Executive Director Nelson Bunn and San Diego Deputy District Attorney and subject expert Damon Mosler. They discussed topics that police departments and prosecutors’ offices should consider during BWC planning and implementation, as well as ways to keep prosecutors involved in the BWC discussion after implementation is complete.
This model policy is created as a guide to prosecutors who are working with law enforcement agencies to implement body-worn cameras. The policy includes “Use Notes,” which present and consider viable alternative policies that may exist for a particular issue. Also accompanying the model policy is a checklist outlining the many issues that should be addressed in a body worn camera policy. This model evolved from a policy originally created by a subcommittee of the CDAA Foundation, headed by David Angel of the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.
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.
At the same time, this rapid adoption of BWCs is occurring within a low information environment; researchers are only beginning to develop knowledge about the effects, both intentional and unintentional, of this technology.
Laws governing how and when police body-worn cameras can be used and whether the footage is released vary considerably across the country. The BWC legislation tracker can be used to find out about passed and pending laws in your state. The tracker will be updated periodically as state laws change.
To view the BWC legislation tracker, click here.