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.
ICMA released a fact sheet highlighting best practices for implementing body-worn cameras in local police departments, from the Body-Worn Camera Policy and Implementation Program of the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), U.S. Department of Justice. The development of the fact sheet was supported by a grant awarded by BJA and implemented by CNA and ICMA. For more resources developed by ICMA and BWC TTA, please visit the ICMA BWC project page.
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.
This webinar served as an orientation to the FY18 Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Body-Worn Camera Policy and Implementation Program. The intent of this grant program is to help agencies develop, implement, and manage a BWC program as one tool in a law enforcement agency’s comprehensive problem-solving approach to enhance officer interactions with the public, combat crime, and build community trust.
In late August, a Texas jury convicted former Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver of the murder of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards. The uncommon verdict largely rested on footage of the incident captured on Oliver’s body camera, technology the city’s police department implemented in 2015. As more law enforcement agencies nationwide use police body-worn cameras, states are developing and refining policy guidance.
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.
The Hogansville, GA, Police Department first implemented body-worn cameras in the middle of 2008 when former Chief of Police Moses Ector purchased two body cameras for a trail run at an International Chiefs of Police Conference. When we first deployed the cameras, there were two that were shared by the shifts. The cameras were not able to keep up with the charging requirements to remain functional so they were briefly decommissioned and spent a few months shelved. Chief Ector reissued one camera to me full time as a test subject to gauge the effectiveness of the BWC.
This webinar examined several issues related to regional approaches to BWC program design and implementation, including the benefits from a regional approach, compromises that will likely need to be made, and planning considerations. The webinar featured a brief presentation on general issues regarding regional models in law enforcement, presentations from several BWC PIP sites that have successfully implemented regional BWC programs, and provided an overview of the key considerations that agencies should attend to during the planning phase of a regional BWC implementation.
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.
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.