More and more police departments are equipping their officers with body-worn cameras. To maximize the utility of body-cams, designers have considered issues such as camera-mounting position, camera-mount stability, methods of activation, and data transfer methods. The human factors/ergonomics community can make important contributions to the design of body-worn cameras and identify and address issues that could arise from the introduction of new technologies (e.g., biometric identification and automatic detection of concealed weapons).
The use of cameras by police departments — whether body-mounted or on automobile dashboards — has become much more common in just the past few years. Now, some cities and towns — including Williams, Arizona — are testing gun-mounted cameras as an innovation.Will they be more effective? What are the concerns and possible pitfalls? Listen as Michael White, professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at ASU, talks about these questions.
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
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.
With the implementation of BWCs across the country increasing rapidly, there has been little attention devoted to the deployment of BWCs by small agencies, and as a result, our understanding of the challenges of cameras in the small agency context is limited. In order to better understand how BWCs affect small agencies, researchers at Arizona State University conducted a multi-state survey of small law enforcement agency executives. The survey, which was administered via the online survey platform Qualtrics, was sent to all jurisdictions with a population of 8,000 or more in 26 states.
Many community stakeholders and criminal justice leaders have suggested placing body-worn cameras (BWCs) on police officers improves the civility of police-citizen encounters and enhances citizen perceptions of police transparency and legitimacy. In response, many police departments have adopted this technology to improve the quality of policing in their communities. However, the existing evaluation evidence on the intended and unintended consequences of outfitting police officers with BWCs is still developing.