Important Considerations When Establishing a BWC Policy Review and Revision Process
A key tenet of a body-worn camera (BWC) program is a comprehensive, well-developed, clear, and concise policy. As such, one of the primary ways in which the BWC Training and Technical Assistance (TTA) team assists agencies implementing a body-worn camera program is through policy review guidance and support. For grantees in the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Body- Worn Camera Policy and Program (PIP), this process can be accomplished using either the BWC Policy Review Scorecard or the BWC Policy Certification Form (see text box).
BWC Scorecard and Certification
In general, the scorecard is used by grantee agencies that have not yet developed BWC policies or those who would like assistance in developing BWC policies in a deliberate and careful manner. The certification form is for those agencies that have already developed a comprehensive and deliberate BWC policy, which is often the case for agencies that are using BWCPIP. These tools are available for use by any agency and can be access through BWC toolkit.
The BWC Policy Review Scorecard includes 13 critical (mandatory) elements, one of which addresses the need for ongoing BWC program and policy review. Specifically, it asks, “Does the policy specify a process for periodic review of BWC program, including policy review?” The intent of this element is to identify and ensure that an agency’s BWC policy is a “living document” that should be consistently reviewed and updated based on the current needs of the agency and the community it serves. In addition, the review and update process is necessary for agencies to remain in compliance with new or revised state laws affecting BWC use. When developing their BWC programs—beyond meeting this requirement with policy language stating the BWC program and policy will be reviewed on a recurrent (usually biannual or yearly basis)—some agencies may not fully appreciate or understand how to thoroughly and methodically implement reviews and associated policy revisions.
Some may view BWCs simply as “technology” and may not feel that a policy review is needed until a problem arises or upgrades are required. It is important for agencies to be proactive with designing and implementing a timely approach for their policy review and revision. An agency’s policy should be developed with consideration of nationwide best practices, which can change significantly over time, resulting in needed policy changes. Agencies should not assume that their current policy only needs slight “tweaking” when working through the revisions process.
One goal of any policy, and revision, should be to help officers understand and follow the organization’s directives, which will help them perform their duties successfully. The BWC policy should outline principles and requirements for officers and the agency that maximize the use and utility of the BWCs. Reviewing and revising, when necessary, a BWC policy to accommodate changing needs of the officers, organization, and community can help ensure maximum performance of the BWC program. Like policy development, agencies should consider a number of key factors when reviewing their BWC policies, including internal and external factors that may influence policy, when to conduct the reviews, who should have input, and how to deploy the revised policy.
Factors influencing BWC policy
A multitude of factors— should be considered when reviewing—an agency’s BWC policy. Reviews should be used to identify and address all of the changes that naturally occur over time within the organization, the community, and the legal system, while also considering the impact on officer safety, operations, and community relations. Factors driving needed change can come from both within an organization (internal) and outside the organization (external). Examples are included in the table below; a few are also described in more detail following the table.
Internal Drivers of Change
External Drivers of Change
Revisions to other policies
Agencies should ensure that the BWC policy does not conflict, but rather coordinates, with other policies and procedures across the agency. Certification and legislation requirements (e.g., CALEA) may dictate an agency’s policy review schedule, and the review schedule for the BWC policy may not synchronize with the review schedules for related policies. We have learned from the BWC Policy and Implementation Program (PIP) that agencies’ policies can quickly become outdated and reference old operations. BWC policies are often interconnected with other agency policies, particularly policies on use of force, crisis/critical incident communications, data and records retention, and training.
Feedback from BWC video/program reviews and audits
Supervisory review of BWC videos can help determine if officers are using their BWCs in accordance with agency policies and procedures. When officers are not following policies or procedures, the root cause of the issue may be a lack of clear and concise guidance in policy (e.g., related to when to activate/deactivate cameras or the citizen notification of BWC recording). A poorly written or confusing policy can not only get an officer or deputy in trouble, it can subject the entire organization to heightened scrutiny and criticism. When such issues are identified, an agency should modify their policy to make the requirements clear. In another example, review of BWC video may identify procedures that are negatively influencing officer safety, and the agency may need to adjust their policy to implement safer operations.
It is important to understand that a BWC program should be reviewed in the same manner as the BWC policy. Each department’s program auditing and compliance process should inform and serve as an input to the policy review and revision process. To learn more on how an agency can develop a robust auditing and compliance program, the BWC TTA team developed an In View Commentary on the topic, as well as a webinar on reducing risk and ensuring compliance for BWC programs. Additionally, compliance reviews and compliance audits are discussed in a two-part podcast series through our LE Tech Talks podcast channel.
Changes in BWC and related technology can influence many aspects of a BWC program and how the BWCs are used. For example, acquiring a new BWC triggering system (e.g., blue light from vehicles activating BWCs) can influence requirements for when officers must activate their cameras. Software upgrades to the BWC video management system could affect how officers are required to “tag” video for uploading and categorization.
New or modified legislation at the local, state, and federal level may influence the BWC program and policy. Legislation can dictate requirements such as video retention and release, which officers must wear BWCs, citizen notification, victim/witness considerations, and BWC activation and deactivation. A law enforcement attorney, legal advisor, and District Attorneys can help an agency ensure their policy complies with all relevant laws.
Community climate and expectations
Many agencies implement a BWC program to increase transparency, accountability, and community support. Agencies should evaluate whether their BWC video release process and policy are achieving these desired goals. If not, the agency may benefit from working with the community to come to a mutual consensus on the plans for BWC video capture, use, and release, and then adjust their policies accordingly. Other community expectations and desires, such as victim or witness privacy, may drive policy to be more restrictive on video release.
When to review
The timeframe for policy reviews can be split into two categories: scheduled reviews and change revisions. As noted previously, the policy review schedule for all agency policies may be predesignated by certification or legislative requirements. These are scheduled reviews. However, the need for BWC policy reviews and revisions may not coincide with this schedule (e.g., those that would address critical issues). These instances can be addressed with ad hoc reviews and change revisions.
Scheduled reviews usually occur on a yearly or every other year basis. If the BWC policy is relatively new to the organization, the designated review schedule should be more frequent and fluid based on how the policy has been received by officers and deputies. During these scheduled reviews, an agency should comprehensively examine their BWC policy for all of the aforementioned factors (and other factors) that could influence the policy. Suggested policy changes that result from this review should be vetted, validated, and implemented in an updated policy. The formality of the process and the persons involved will vary depending on the nature of the changes. If the changes are generated from internal consideration they may need, or be required, to be reviewed by the appropriate leadership and staff (e.g., chief of police, sheriff, warden, command staff, training division, and internal affairs) and go through an approval/signatory process. If the changes are generated by external consideration such as revisions to state statutes, they may need to be reviewed by legal counsel or by the local prosecutor’s office.
To minimize the number of times a policy is modified and has to go through a formal revision process (especially if the process is lengthy or onerous), an agency may choose to document minor policy changes, such as those that do not affect officer safety or do not require immediate implementation, over the course of a year and examine them during the scheduled review process. However, even if the policy change needed is minor, some agencies may prefer to implement the change as soon as possible. As a compromise between the two, some may choose to expedite minor policy changes through interdepartmental communications.
There are also issues that will generate change revisions, such as those that directly affect officer safety, operations, community relations, liability of the agency, equipment, and hardware. These changes may require unscheduled revisions and immediate action. Change revisions should be handled on a case-by-case basis depending on the urgency and severity of the issue. It is important not to wait for the designated review time if change is needed immediately.
Who should review and provide input
Most often, the BWC program manager conducts the annual review of a BWC program and policy. However, as with policy development, revisions to policy should afford an opportunity for other members of the agency to contribute. If an agency does not have a policy review committee, they should consider establishing a process that allows for various members/ranks of the organization to periodically rotate and be part of the policy reviews to gain additional perspectives. Not only can this help to eliminate confusion and identify obstacles, it will likely aid with improved understanding of the revised policy across the agency.
As noted previously, community and other stakeholder input can also be important for policy revisions. Agencies can garner community input through a variety of means, such as stakeholder working groups, online review and comment tools, and through existing civilian advisory boards.
Alongside the identified agency staff and stakeholders (e.g., union, community) it is important that the chief or sheriff of the agency conduct the final review and approval of the policy revision before releasing it to the department.
How to deliver the revised policy to the agency
When policy changes occur, the agency should develop a clear plan on how the revisions will be communicated (and trained, if needed) to agency personnel. There should also be a venue for officers and deputies to ask questions, with leadership there to address any confusion. This could include town halls, briefings, roll calls, in-service trainings, and memos. It is important for officers and deputies to buy into and understand the revisions to ensure effective implementation of each section of the policy. If the agency shares its policy publicly (e.g., on its website), the agency should also update the publicly available version of the policy in tandem, and determine if any communication to the community regarding policy changes is necessary.
- Ensure that BWC policy changes remain aligned with the mission of the agency and nationwide best practices, and provide the most current guidance for officers on the proper use of BWCs.
- Be aware of the many factors that can influence BWC policy, and consider all of them during the policy review process.
- Stay abreast of local, state, and federal legislation changes that impact BWC policy.
- Build in a set timeframe for BWC policy review; however, do not limit policy reviews to the predesignated timeframe. Also, examine and revise the policy as needs dictate.
- Garner input from internal and external stakeholders on needed policy revisions.
- Develop a plan for communicating policy revisions to an agency, including policy revision training.
Bridgette Bryson, BWC TTA Resource Coordinator
Bridgette Bryson is a BWC TTA analyst and the training and technical assistance resource coordinator for BWC TTA. As an analyst, Ms. Bryson also works closely with BWC sites to recommend and deliver training and technical assistance resources. She maintains close and continuous contact with various partners, including the BWC TTA lead and the BWC site team. As the TTA resource coordinator, she directs the management of resources for police departments and develops reports and memos for best practice solutions. Ms. Bryson also helps coordinate webinars, In View Commentaries, and resource development. Ms. Bryson works with over 20 subject experts in conducting regular status calls and provides TTA tracking support for the Bureau of Justice Assistance. She also ensures that all requirements for the grant program are met in a timely manner. She works with the project manager to develop resources on a national scale.
Charles Stephenson, BWC TTA Senior Advisor
Charles Stephenson is a senior advisor for the BWC TTA and is currently a public safety technologist for CNA. For the past 15 years, he has assisted public safety agencies in addressing their technology needs and challenges while supporting the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance along with various Office of Justice Programs such as the National Institute of Justice and the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Centers. Some of his more notable work has involved the implementation of body-worn cameras, the use of situational awareness tools, the development of dynamic open architecture radios, gunshot detection technologies, and methods to combat the illicit use of cell phones in correctional facilities. Mr. Stephenson is a retired Army Officer who served in the Signal and Ordnance Corps. Mr. Stephenson holds an MBA in project management from Columbia Southern University and a BS from the University of Maryland.
Tom Woodmansee, BWC TTA Senior Advisor
Tom Woodmansee is a senior advisor at CNA, working on BWC TTA. Prior to joining CNA, he worked for the Madison, WI, police department for 25 years. Mr. Woodmansee's experience includes work as a patrol officer and undercover narcotics officer, as well as 13 years as a detective. He also served on the SWAT team as a tactical operator, later as a negotiator and then a commander, and he oversaw the police academy and several specialized investigative units. Mr. Woodmansee has worked with many agencies around the country on a variety of projects and systems improvements through BJA Strategies for Policing Innovation program and BJA National Public Safety Partnership. Woodmansee holds an MS in Management and Organizational Behavior.
 An important consideration to keep in mind when developing or revising a BWC policy is that there should be a distinction between the terms policy and procedure. Policy should be used to refer to “guiding principles” rather than steps to follow, or procedures. A policy is designed to provide clear and concise rules and requirements that need to be followed. A procedure is intended to provide detailed and specific guidance when conducting tasks.
 This list is not intended to be comprehensive of all of the factors that may influence a BWC program, but rather is intended to demonstrate the variety of considerations.
 We have also learned that it is important for agencies to understand the distinction between officer’s deliberate disregard for policy versus the need to address officer noncompliance that is a result of training, deficiencies. The need for training may not constitute a need for policy revisions when issues arise.
 To learn more about officer buy-in, refer to an In View Commentary developed by our Senior Advisor, Tom Woodmansee, and former police officer and Sergeant with the Sacramento, California Police Department, Dr. Renee Mitchell.
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 Justiceand 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