Resources about Policy

In View Commentary: Releasing BWC Video to the Public: Policy Implications

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.  

The draft policy can be found here. LAPD recently released critical incident BWC footage under this new policy. An article regarding this footage can be found here.

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.

Engaging Prosecutors During BWC Planning, Implementation, and Beyond

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.

BWC Model Policy: An Aid for Prosecutors

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.

In View: Body-Worn Camera Compliance

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:

  1. Provide a clear understanding of the organization’s expectations for the officers behavior
  2. 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
  3. 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:

  1. Identifying the Issue
  2. Policy 
  3. Training 
  4. Supervision 
  5. Auditing 

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. 

Body-Worn Camera Community Education and Creating Reasonable Expectations

The BWC TTA Team hosted a webinar on body-worn camera community education and creating reasonable expectations. This webinar provided information about how and why it is important to educate the community on the limitations and benefits of Body-Worn Cameras (BWCs). It also discussed the many considerations that must be taken into account when releasing BWC footage, including privacy concerns, victims’ rights, and on-going investigation needs.

In View: Key Trends in Body-Worn Camera Policies

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.
 
 Activation
(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.
 
Deactivation
(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. 
 
Citizen notification
(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.  
 
 

The Critical Importance of Body-Worn Camera Policy Development and Review

This webinar reviewed the key trends identified in our review of over 125 BWC PIP policies.  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. 

In View: What Have We Learned from The BWC Implementation Program So Far?

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.


Greensboro Police Department Body-Worn Camera FAQs Card

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

5. Train.

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.

7. Audit.

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 

BWCs and Procedural Justice

This paper explores variations in procedural justice delivered in face to face encounters with citizens before and after the implementation of body worn cameras (BWC). The paper draws on recent advances in the measurement of procedural justice using systematic social observation of police in field settings in the Los Angeles Police Department. Data collected on 555 police citizen encounters are examined in bivariate and multivariate models exploring the primary hypothesis that BWC affects procedural justice delivered by police directly and indirectly.