External Factors that Impact BWC Program Staffing
Two challenging aspects of implementing or expanding a body-worn camera (BWC) program are ensuring projecting staffing is sufficient to support the program as well as anticipating the impacts on existing staff. Several variables make staffing challenging—some of which an agency can control while others are imposed. Ideally, agencies could simply use a staffing formula based on deployed BWC units, but the complexity of BWC issues makes that impractical. Instead, agencies must engage in due diligence to properly understand and prepare for both external and internal influences on staffing. After recognizing those influences, agencies will be better equipped to justify staffing requests or allocate responsibilities to existing personnel. This article addresses external factors—those that exist or evolve outside of an agency’s control yet result in tasks or responsibilities that will affect the organization’s staff.
Of all the external factors, legal requirements are the most consequential and can result in sanctions for non-compliance. BWC program leaders must be aware of state and local requirements regarding BWC retention schedules as well as legal requirements to respond to public records requests and freedom of information inquiries. Performing a thorough review of the relevant statutes is essential, and seeking guidance from city or county legal advisors to avoid problems is good practice. In addition to state statutes, agencies should check for any ordinances or resolutions at the city or county level that would pertain to BWC file retention, being mindful of broadly inclusive terms (e.g., “all electronic files”) that could impose a retention or “produce records” obligation. An agency may find it necessary to seek an amendment or clarification because the authors of such a requirement did not envision BWC programs when the ordinance was passed. Again, seeking legal guidance is highly advisable.
After determining the retention and records requirements, an agency will better understand how BWC decisions will impact its organization and the degree of those impacts. Careful consideration should be given to the costs and staff impacts associated with retaining BWC files beyond what is legally required. Many agencies choose to not retain video files beyond the minimum period required by law due to data storage costs and the potential for additional or expansive requests for records. However, an agency may decide it is appropriate or advantageous to retain video beyond the required legal minimum. Ideally, agencies should seek a balance in which videos that may have training or documentary benefit are retained without causing burdensome costs or adverse staffing impacts.
Agencies should set a reasonable and appropriate retention period based on: (1) any legal requirements in their jurisdiction, (2) operational and investigative needs, (3) data storage capabilities and related costs, and (4) a reasonable balance of the first three considerations in light of community expectations.
Agency leaders will benefit from monitoring proposed legislation with BWC relevance. Some state organizations (such as chiefs or sheriffs’ associations) have been successful in proactively working with legislators to ultimately produce laws that meet public expectations while not being unnecessarily burdensome or restrictive. At the very least, awareness of pending legislation can help prepare an agency for changes rather than being caught off guard.
Court and prosecutorial processes
BWCs are now so ubiquitous that the relevant courts and prosecutors will probably have established processes and policies regarding the handling and intake of BWC video evidence. Accordingly, it is likely that an agency with a new BWC program (or a new BWC vendor or system) will be expected to conform to existing court and prosecutorial processes. Agencies should engage early and establish a thorough understanding of areas that include at a minimum: timeliness, methods of transfer, redaction expectations, discovery processes, overall evidentiary considerations, and primary points of contacts. Ultimately, the agency is responsible for ensuring that evidentiary footage can be produced in a timely manner when needed. Clear delineation of staff responsibilities and procedures in this area will contribute to efficient use of staff and a consistent, defensible process.
Much of the rapid expansion of BWC programs across the country has been driven by community demands for accountability and transparency. According to the Pew Research Center, 93 percent of the public supports police use of BWCs. Stakeholder conversations are a key part of BWC development and implementation because they will help an agency understand community expectations for BWC footage review and response. Meeting these expectations will have a direct impact on staffing. Consideration of community input should be ongoing and not limited to the initial BWC rollout. Community expectations evolve, and open dialogue will reduce the need for reactionary damage control that can consume an inordinate amount of staff time and undermine citizen confidence.
BWC technology continues to evolve quickly, and newer systems provide features that can save time and produce better search results. Important advancements include making it easier to document and categorize recordings and link them to a specific incident (e.g., integration with computer-aided dispatch systems) as well as improved search options, quicker and more effective redaction, and the ability to identify related recordings (i.e., other BWCs that captured video relevant to an incident). Regarding the last feature, documenting and producing all video related to an incident is essential to the prosecutorial process, and failure to do so can result in a case being compromised. A significant amount of staff time can be saved through systems that identify potentially relevant BWC recordings by leveraging data such as proximity and time stamps. These same systems can help identify pertinent BWC video that the primary reporting officer may not have been aware of and thus lessen the potential for legal challenges related to discovery.
Although the technological capabilities of BWC systems are an external factor, agencies do have the ability to choose or prioritize features that will improve operational efficiency. If an agency is initiating a BWC procurement process, it is important to conduct appropriate due diligence in researching the state of the industry, including beneficial and timesaving features. If an agency has a legacy BWC system and is considering an upgrade or replacement, pain points should be gathered from relevant personnel and carefully considered. Past experiences should be discussed with potential vendors when considering any type of equipment upgrade. When specifying required capabilities, the agency should prioritize features that will save staff time through automation and thus provide significant return on the agency’s investment.
Size and geographic spread of jurisdiction
Agencies have no control over the geographical size of their jurisdiction or the number of the jurisdiction’s divisions, sectors, or districts, making this an external factor. Jurisdiction geography is relevant to this discussion because logistics will affect staffing during initial BWC deployment, training, and ongoing support and maintenance of the equipment. Simply put—it takes more time to support more locations, and this reality is exacerbated by the challenges of shift work. Agencies should factor in geography when planning a BWC rollout or department-wide training. Regarding remote workstations, some agencies have found that the existing bandwidth in some facilities is insufficient to support large data transfers associated with video, especially when multiple officers are transferring at the same time. This could result in unplanned downtime for officers and may require IT improvements or staggered data transfer times. Checking relevant IT capabilities before rollout is highly recommended.
Although workflows and the capacity to absorb new responsibilities vary greatly among agencies, many agencies have successfully absorbed the impacts of BWC programs by using unfilled or under-utilized positions. Organizations commonly have allocated staff positions that may not currently reflect technological or organizational changes. For instance, some administrative staffing requirements have significantly declined due to automated field reporting or technological advances. Departments should assess their current organizational workflow processes to identify options to support BWC-related tasks.
The value of a pilot
New programs can be well served by starting with a small pilot group of field officers. Many agencies that conduct pilot programs ask volunteers to wear BWCs because volunteers are more willing to conscientiously engage and provide meaningful feedback. Once the operational basics are ironed out, agencies can expand the pilot to a specific unit or group for 60 to 90 days. Most departments find that officers who are experienced with BWCs are best equipped to instruct other officers on BWC utilization, so agencies with pilot programs should elevate pilot participants into training roles. Agencies should consider making them the primary points of contact regarding BWC issues, as well as liaisons to the BWC program manager. This approach can effectively distribute the responsibilities of supporting a BWC program.
Determining the staffing needs for BWC program development and implementation is challenging. Although no specific BWC staffing formula will work for all agencies, some considerations and steps can help guide agencies as they implement or update a BWC program. Informed planning is the cornerstone of any successful project. Due diligence and objective assessment must occur long before equipment acquisition. Agencies should have a clear plan that carefully considers the issues addressed above, and they should make adjustments based on deliberate examination of the program as it progresses.
Author’s Note: This article focused on external considerations when implementing or expanding a BWC program. Stay tuned for a follow-up article that will address important internal considerations.
Scot Haug is a 32-year-veteran of law enforcement, having worked in all areas of police operations and technology recently retiring as the Chief of Police of the Post Falls, Idaho Police Department. He is a graduate of the 201st FBI National Academy and has served as a Commissioner for Idaho POST, the agency responsible for all Idaho policing standards and training. Most recently he served as President of the Idaho Chiefs of Police Association. Scot is known for being an effective practitioner-technologist and has significant project management experience. He has served as a technology consultant to company’s such as Lockheed Martin, Booz|Allen|Hamilton and the International Chief’s of Police Association. His technology projects have been featured in Computer World magazine, CEO magazine, and the Harvard University Government Innovators Network. He is co-owner of the consulting firm, Public Safety Insight
 Pew Research Center, Jan. 2017, “Behind the Badge: Amid protests and calls for reform, how police view their jobs, key issues and recent fatal encounters between blacks and police.” https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2017/01/11/police-views-public-views/#:~:text=Two%2Dthirds%20of%20the%20police,between%20officers%20and%20the%20public.&text=Half%20of%20officers%20and%20two,when%20wearing%20a%20body%20cam.
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.