Optimizing the use and benefits of BWCs with refresher training
A study by the Arizona State University (ASU) Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety published in March 2020 reported that only 34 percent of law enforcement agencies receiving funding through the Bureau of Justice Assistance Body-Worn Camera Policy and Implementation program provide refresher training for their personnel on the use of BWCs. However, a 2015 survey of agencies that had implemented BWCs demonstrated that officers desire and are in need of refresher training. Understanding what refresher training is and why it is important can be vital to an agency’s BWC program success. In this In-View, we discuss refresher training for BWC programs, including the potential benefits of this type of training, how and how often it might be held, what agencies might want to consider participating, and how an agency can develop refresher training.
What is refresher training and why is it beneficial?
Refresher training occurs after a BWC program is operational and after users have received the initial training on the system, policy, and program. This training may cover any aspect of a BWC program and can be delivered in a variety of forms, such as roll-call training, classroom or online in-service training, training bulletins, and specific and topical training. Refresher training can help officers accurately use their cameras and can keep them up to date on policy issues and technology. Beyond officers, refresher training can be useful to personnel with roles in implementing a BWC program (e.g., BWC supervisors, investigators, those in charge of redaction, and IT professionals). Refresher training ensures all those involved in the BWC program are optimizing the use and benefits of the BWCs for the organization and the community.
How often is refresher training conducted?
Agencies that reported holding refresher training most commonly held it annually, while other agencies held training on an as-needed basis., Available trainings listed publicly are held bi-annually, annually, or as-needed.,, However, the frequency of refresher training is an area in which BWC Training and Technical Assistance (TTA) Subject Matter Expert (SME) Captain Dan Zehnder (ret.) thinks agencies can improve:
Agencies shouldn’t think of refresher training as an annual or biannual event. Rather, agencies might want to consider BWC refresher training as “ongoing” (i.e., as needed). It might not be prudent to wait eight months to advise of certain BWC training topics, especially policy changes.
Refresher training typically lasts an hour or less and is not intended to replace or replicate the initial training. Furthermore, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) recommends that agencies conduct refresher training at least once a year; however, the regularity should depend on any changes in law or policy, as well as the timing of supervisory reviews, audits, and issues uncovered within a department.
What might an agency want to consider when conducting refresher training?
Agencies have tended to concentrate refresher training on policy issues, common problems officers may experience with the cameras, and recent changes to BWC policy or law. Agencies conducting refresher training on policy focus primarily on activation and deactivation, as well as video tagging, downloading, and camera placement. Less frequently, they cover battery issues, buffering, muting, and other operational issues.
For agencies that have not implemented refresher training, or agencies looking to boost their current training program, areas in which to consider incorporating refresher training include:
- Changes to the BWC or related policies. For example, changes to activation requirements or guidance for recording at public protests or demonstrations.
- Changes to the BWC or another related technology. For example, an agency acquiring automatic BWC-activating technology or a new digital evidence management system.
- Changes in BWC video handling procedures. For example, changes in how the agency delivers BWC videos to the public or prosecutors.
- Lessons learned and statistics around how the officers and the department are using the cameras. For example, an agency evaluating their BWC program and wanting to communicate lessons learned with officers (e.g., if the implementation of BWCs has reduced complaints or time for complaint resolution).
- Common challenges and solutions involving the use of BWCs within the department. For example, clarifying misinterpretations of the BWC policy, addressing any non-compliance with policy at an agency level, and addressing any questions users may have about BWC use. Topics such as technology limitations (e.g., troubleshooting common technical issues) and optimizing operational use of the cameras (e.g., best location of camera placement) could also be included.
- Exemplary use of BWCs or officer activities captured on a BWC during an incident. For example, BWC footage helping resolve an officer-involved shooting or other critical incident.
- Novel uses of BWCs within the agency or within nearby agencies. For example, an agency deploying BWCs to non-patrol officers, or a nearby agency acquiring BWCs. If officers respond to an incident with a nearby agency that now has BWCs, they may need to know about differences between their BWC policy and the nearby agency’s policy to prevent issues and conflicts during joint operations.
- Input from officers and supervisors. For example, an officer recommending a policy change based on experience in the field.
- Innovations in the field and the latest in BWC research. For example, a unique use of BWC that the department wants to share and consider implementing in their operations.
- Best practices for case preparation involving BWC videos. For example, communicating best practices associated with camera use from the evidentiary perspective to the agency, based on feedback from local prosecutors and other criminal justice stakeholders who are responsible for managing digital evidence (i.e., lessons learned for how to capture videos that are effective and well received in court).
- Scenario-based training. For example, agencies might want to consider integrating BWCs into other training activities, such as firearms qualifications, defensive tactics, and advanced officer tactical training. Integrating BWCs, and subsequently reviewing BWC video associated with the training, can reinforce policy and procedures, reveal the strengths and weaknesses of the systems, demonstrate what BWCs do and do not see, and help develop and strengthen existing processes.
- Best practices in response to crime victims. For example, highlighting best practices associated with the privacy considerations of victims, including informed consent.
How can a department develop refresher training?
Ensuring officers are adequately trained on BWC use is vital to a program’s success. Refresher training is a key component of this. Agencies should consider which of the training topics would be relevant to the various personnel involved in their BWC programs. For example, a supervisor will likely not have the same refresher training requirements as a BWC video redaction specialist.
Agencies should be creative about the resources necessary to conduct a BWC refresher training event. Perhaps an agency can incorporate refresher training into existing training events and mechanisms. For example, an agency might inform its officers of an exemplary use of BWCs during the next roll-call training. Later, that same agency could communicate statistics around BWC use and program success to its entire sworn staff during in-service training. An IT specialist might receive refresher training from the BWC vendor or a peer organization using the same system.
An agency should determine which refresher training mechanism, or combination of training mechanisms, works best for that agency and for the individuals supporting the program. Adherence to a specific delivery mechanism is not as critical as the content of the training, which is intended to foster continual improvement of BWC programs.
Agencies working with a BWC TTA team can benefit from direct, regular support from a TTA lead and analyst assigned to work with them throughout their BWC implementation process. These TTA teams, as well as other SMEs working with the BWC TTA program, are available to assist agencies in identifying training requirements and developing customized training for their organizations. These TTA teams can also set up peer to peer experiences for agencies to learn from another department on their refresher training process. Even if an agency is not currently a BJA BWC grantee working with the BWC TTA team, an agency can request TTA from the BWC TTA program, as well as contact BJA.
 Major Cities Chiefs Association, Major County Sheriffs Association, and the Lafayette Group (2015). Technology Needs – Body Worn Cameras. https://assets.bwbx.io/documents/users/iqjWHBFdfxIU/rvnT.EAJQwK4/v0
The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) has model policy language regarding this aspect: https://www.pccd.pa.gov/criminaljustice/advisory_boards/Documents/BWC%20Policy%20Recommendations%20Commission%20Approved.pdf.
Jessica Dockstader is a BWC TTA analyst and the outreach coordinator for BWC TTA. As an analyst, she works closely with BWC PIP sites to recommend and deliver training and technical assistance resources as they develop their policy and implement their body-worn camera program. She also keeps track of received resources and progress made by the agency throughout the project. She reviews department policy, schedules regular meetings, and facilitates delivery of technical assistance. As the Outreach Coordinator, she edits multimedia and coordinates the development and dissemination of newsletters. Ms. Dockstader also maintains the project website, and regularly drafts and distributes social media materials related to the project.
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