BWC Impacts on Staffing and Workload: Voices from the Field
Implementing, expanding, or updating a body-worn camera (BWC) program comes with important considerations and a number of challenges. One particular challenge is that BWCs increase workloads and, thus, staffing needs. When it comes to BWC programs, agencies frequently ask, “Are additional personnel going to be required, and, if so, how do I determine the level of increase and justify the associated expense?”
The answer to that question: “It depends.” It would be nice to have a simple computation, such as “adding X cameras will require Y additional personnel.” However, such a computation isn’t possible because of the many variables involved in BWC implementation. One of the biggest is the variety of responsibilities that will arise from the BWC program. For example, does the agency have a robust IT infrastructure that can handle the rollout of BWCs? Does the agency have staff in place to perform auditing and compliance checks associated with BWC use? Will sworn or civilian staff be responsible for those tasks? Will existing investigative units be able to handle the addition of BWC footage to reviews of use of force, performance evaluations, and criminal investigations? Finally, can the agency manage media requests for BWC footage (and any redaction that may be necessary)?
Agencies must conduct due diligence and make meaningful assessments to anticipate the BWC program’s impact on staffing and workload and to ensure a program meets organizational needs and community expectations. Below we describe the experiences of two California agencies, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the Vacaville Police Department (VPD), to highlight the complexity of the issues involved in determining BWC staffing and workload needs.
The VPD implemented a BWC program in 2009, and Vacaville Chief of Police John Carli (then a lieutenant) was actively involved in its rollout. The agency’s experience was cited in the 2014 US Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services /Police Executive Research Forum publication, Implementing a Body-Worn Camera Program – Recommendations and Lessons Learned. VPD has 180 employees, 119 of whom are sworn officers, and it is now on its fourth iteration of BWC hardware. For the most part, staffing effects have been a matter of “distributed workload.” According to Chief Carli, “Within most organizations, there are people who are technologically savvy, and you can usually find the people in your organization that have the ability or experience to get the job done.”
Chief Carli says it is important to consider the entire BWC ecosystem, ranging from policy to support. He noted that the trend toward cloud-based storage, which can lessen the impact on staff, particularly IT personnel. “Reality check—it’s going to cost a lot of money for storage and ongoing operations, but most of it can be managed by cooperatively working with the IT staff that you already have,” Chief Carli says.
Advances in technology have helped, and Chief Carli believes many time-consuming tasks will be mitigated by smarter systems. When Vacaville’s system became integrated with computer-aided dispatch (CAD), the tagging and categorization of recordings became automated. “This easily saved each officer about 30 minutes a day,” he says.
Chief Carli stresses that it is important for BWC manufacturers to continue to address operational areas that are prone to error: “When an officer shows up on a call, the CAD system knows, and there’s integration with the BWC system to categorize the call. If two officers are on the same call, BWC manufacturers can coordinate the way the devices communicate and document related videos. If this doesn’t happen, there can be problems down the road. For example, prosecutors and judges are learning that recordings sometimes don’t get submitted because an officer wasn’t first on the scene and didn’t properly tag their recording. This presents a discovery problem, and manufacturers need to continually address these types of issues.”
Chief Carli says that his agency receives five or six public records requests a month and has not yet been required to do a significant amount of redaction. He noted, however, that recent legislation in California requires agencies to provide videos of critical incidents, which may increase the number of requests. “You can imagine if you have a case that draws attention, you’re probably going to be getting requests to provide that video,” he says.
Overall, Chief Carli says that Vacaville’s approach has been to handle the impact of BWCs as “absorbed workload”; thus, additional personnel have not been required. He offers this insight: “The assumption is that you have to add staffing for BWC. Recognize that within any organization there is already access to IT support, technical processes, and people at the line level who can take some degree of responsibility. It’s not a given that you’ll have to stand up a specific BWC unit with additional staffing. Every agency is going to be different, and there may be a point where the delta is hit, and the volume of devices will require dedicated staff.”
Technological innovation will also help determine the need for additional staff. Chief Carli, who is a technology advisor to the California Police Chiefs’ Association, offers this insight on how artificial intelligence (AI) may soon play a role in identifying videos that warrant review: “The AI of the future would scan both audio and video to determine tone, words used, and/or physical movements. This would expeditiously flag and identify actions that are concerning.”
With nearly 10,000 sworn officers and almost 3,000 civilian staff, the LAPD is one of the largest police agencies in the country. When the LAPD began a BWC pilot in 2014, Lieutenant (retired) Daniel Gomez was responsible for much of the planning and subsequent deployment. He says that staffing was a key consideration, and the department assessed thoroughly different aspects of existing operational areas and the potential impact of BWCs. For example, LAPD has formalized processes and dedicated personnel for the investigation of officer-involved shootings (OIS), non-OIS use of force, traffic collisions, pursuits, and personnel complaints. Each of the units involved in these investigations reviews relevant videos, and LAPD considered the additional workload associated with the review and the capacity for the existing staff to handle those tasks. LAPD also recognized that resources beyond those units would be necessary to ensure officer compliance with department policy on camera activation/deactivation and appropriate categorization.
“For the initial rollout, we phased in about 32 positions related to BWC over the course of deployment,” Lieutenant Gomez says. “Many were to support policy compliance reviews and were civilian positions doing double duty for both BWC and in-car video.” Using civilian employees was particularly important to the LAPD. “We did not want this to be a supervisor responsibility,” Lieutenant Gomez says. “We were already asking so much of our supervisors and wanted them in the field rather than reviewing videos.”
Some of the video review personnel were reassigned from other positions, especially sworn staff tasked with supporting ongoing training, investigations as subject matter experts, and operational support of the program. According to Lieutenant Gomez, approximately 120 personnel currently have a direct role in supporting different aspects of the department’s BWC and in-car video programs.
On use of force videos, Lieutenant Gomez notes the significant impact of recent legislation and the resulting effect on staff. Although the LAPD began releasing Critical Incident Community Briefings prior to the new legislation, the impact to sworn and civilian staffing has been significant.
Lieutenant Gomez acknowledges the time-saving benefits associated with technology improvements in BWC systems but cautions against over-reliance. “Advances in technology can help you focus in on a particular part of a video or generate a more focused list of videos based on certain parameters to review, but the final determination is going to depend on a person, a person who can take one thread of an event and weave it into the context of the entire incident,” he says.
Although there may not be a clear-cut answer to the question of staffing requirements resulting from BWC implementation, there are specific considerations that will guide agency leaders as they prepare to implement or expand a BWC program. Planning is crucial, as is purposeful appraisal during the initial phases of the procurement process. These actions will provide appropriate justification and allow time for organizational adjustments that will support the program properly.
 California Assembly Bill 748 became effective July 1, 2019. It requires the release of police-recorded video no later than 45 calendar days following a critical incident with an exception if such disclosure would “substantially interfere” with an ongoing investigation. However, the exception requires clear evidence and imposes additional reporting requirements that ensure that the video will be released in a timely manner.
This project was supported by Grant No. 2015-DE-BX-K002 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the SMART Office. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.