In View Commentary: From the Field – Las Vegas Metropolitan, NV Police Department

Leading the Way on Body-Worn Camera Implementation: Las Vegas Metropolitan, Nevada Police Department

Dan Zehnder, BWC TTA Lead

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) was established in 1973 and is a joint city-county police force for the City of Las Vegas and Clark County, Nevada. With a sworn police force of over 3,000 officers, LVMPD serves over 2.2 million people. In FY 2015, LVMPD received a Body-Worn Camera Policy and Implementation Program award of $250,000 to purchase over 250 cameras. As one of the first agencies to implement BWCs, LVMPD has become an innovative leader in many aspects of BWC implementation, including policy development, research and evaluation, and BWC technology management. Agencies across the country look to LVMPD for guidance, particularly on policy issues regarding officer and citizen review of video as well as policy auditing and compliance.

The development of LVMPD’s first BWC policy was challenging. In 2013, the department created a team to evaluate BWCs and write the initial policy. At this time, very little material on best practices existed, and no large agency policies could be adapted to meet LVMPD’s unique needs. The department was only in the camera evaluation stage as the request for proposals was under development. They understood a solid policy that covered activation, deactivation, supervisory review, maintenance, upload procedures, and the handling of cameras at critical incidents had to be written prior to procuring and deploying cameras. However, real-world camera use is critical for refining policies. By the time the first set of cameras arrived in early 2014, LVMPD had created a formal BWC Section, headed by a program manager (PM). The PM scoured available references and reached out to smaller agencies to glean valuable lessons learned from their deployments. LVMPD updated the policy with these lessons as well as some common-sense refinements, such as recording crime scenes and using BWCs during overtime assignments. Shortly after LVMPD revised its policy, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) published “Implementing a Body-Worn Camera Program.” This publication would serve as a foundational benchmark reference for agencies, and it helped validate the LVMPD’s policy. The third revision of the LVMPD policy drew from this report and included recommendations not covered in previous versions.

The national events of summer and fall of 2014 in Ferguson, MO and New York City, NY, were catalysts for dramatic and rapid increases in BWC deployments around the country. Agencies began discussing best practices for BWC policy and deployment. LVMPD fielded 200 cameras in 2014 and steadily increased that number over the following four years until the department reached full deployment. The BWC Section continued to monitor all aspects of the program and continually adjust policy to account for lessons learned both internally and from other agencies. On the national front, the BJA funded the BWC TTA Team to help agencies that received federal grants for BWC procurement develop comprehensive policies. LVMPD was among the initial 2015 grant year awardees. The assistance of the TTA Team helped LVMPD further revise its policy. Once most cameras were deployed, the BWC Section concentrated on revising policy and procedures even further to address issues not previously considered. Areas that needed to be addressed or refined in the policy included BWC use compliance, audits, transfer of video to the prosecutor’s office, cameras on plain-clothes officers, BWC use during major public disturbance incidents, and handling of public records requests. This continuous monitoring and refinement is ongoing to this day.

Takeaways from the initial LVMPD experience include the following:

  • Agency policy continually evolves and should be monitored and adjusted in response to agency needs and lessons learned from using the cameras.

  • Do not develop policy in a vacuum. Reach out to other agencies and make use of all available references.

  • Consider creating a BWC PM position (or section if you have the resources). Designate someone to monitor all aspects of the program and policy, at least until BWC usage becomes “institutionalized.”

  • Know that once deployment is over, unanticipated issues will arise, such as BWC technology failures and storage capacity requirements. The agency must address these as quickly as possible.

  • Finally, ensure that other policies and practices are reviewed for the impact of BWCs. Handling of BWCs post-officer-involved shooting and public records requests are two examples.

Mr. Zehnder is a retired Police Captain with 22 years of service in the Las Vegas, Nevada, Metropolitan Police Department, an agency that is recognized as an innovation leader.  He served as the department’s BWC Program Manager for more than two years. 

Dan has been involved with the BWC discussion at the national level, having served as a subject matter expert for the BJA, Department of Justice, as it developed an online BWC “Toolkit,” published in May 2015. He serves on BJA’s BWC Training and Technical Assistance Team.

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.