In View Commentary: The Importance of Developing Your Own BWC Training

The Importance of Developing Your Own Training 

Thomas Woodmansee, Senior Advisor at CNA, BWC subject expert, and former police officer

Police officers tend to have a love/hate relationship with training. Announce that there will be an Active Shooter Scenario-Based Tactical Training, and some will be giddy while others will dread it. The same goes for pursuit training, firearms training, emergency vehicle operations, investigations, and other training opportunities. One consistent response that I have seen in my policing career is that officers will demonstrate universal contempt for anything related to “policy updates” or “new technology” trainings. Many agencies who have been involved with the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s (BJA’s) Body-Worn Camera Policy and Implementation Program (BWC PIP) will routinely note that when they began their process, they did not completely appreciate or understand the complexities and dynamics of BWCs or the need to establish a customized training approach. BWCs are far more than just a new piece of equipment, and the steps of BWC implementation (including the initial decision to explore BWCs, policy development, community outreach, procurement, and implementation) can prove quite challenging to your agency.

BWCs receive a great deal of attention and expectation within our current national climate. New radios or other police equipment typically have impacts on internal factors such as officer safety, improved tactics, and information sharing; however, BWCs have much broader implications related to:

  • Officer Safety
  • Evidence
  • Public Trust and Expectations
  • Department Transparency
  • Officer and Public Accountability
  • Information Technology
  • Public Education
  • Internal Education
  • Complaints and Discipline
  • Use of Force
  • Lawsuits
  • Public Relations

Introducing a BWC program to your organization and community is complex, which is why it is important to establish comprehensive, effective, and customized training for your agency, your officers, your criminal justice partners, the media, and the public. Every police agency has challenges and limited resources that are unique to their communities and organizations. Police departments design and develop customized trainings and procedures for their officers covering a wide range of topics, including violent crime strategies, community policing, evidence collection, use of force decision-making, investigations, etc. It is equally important for agencies to design and develop their own BWC curricula based on their needs and capacities.

There are more than 50 BWC vendors, and many provide agencies with training upon the purchase of their BWC product. Vendor training is a good starting point, but it is only a start. Training by vendors is usually limited to operation of the equipment including review of technical capacities, how to turn device on and off, and how to dock and upload data. Vendors generally provide one size-fits-all training specific to their product, they do not individualize training to address agency BWC policy or compliance processes. Vendors also will not address how an agency’s BWC policy and practice will affect most of the factors mentioned in the bullet points above (e.g., use of force or public trust).  

For these reasons, agencies should supplement the vendor training with their own BWC training. Some agencies elect to do online training, others choose incorporate on-site training, and some do both. Medium and large agencies often have the luxury to assign their training team to develop and conduct BWC training. Smaller agencies may not have the capacity to do this and often simply rely on the training provided by vendors. While recognizing the value of vendor training, this article highlights the benefits of police departments supplementing it with a customized BWC training built around their individual policies, needs, and capacities. 

The benefits of scenario-based training are widely recognized in policing. Classroom training is important, but actual hands-on situational training resonates with officers, especially for situations in which they must multitask under stress. Some agencies have customized their trainings to incorporate BWC activation and notification into other scenario-based trainings, such as tactics and professional communications. Some agencies have built BWCs into all of their Fire Arms Training Simulator (FATS) trainings. Officers know that repetition builds muscle memory and consistency. Captain Craig Burgess, from the BWC PIP site in Aiken, South Carolina, notes that their officers are trained and directed to activate their BWC upon receiving the call for service, which has become routine for them. This approach gives the officers one less thing to do when rolling up on a scene.

Training should also emphasize key elements of the agency’s BWC policy. When should officers activate the BWC? Under what conditions are they permitted to deactivate? How should an officer handle citizen requests for deactivation? Are officers required to notify the citizen of the recording? Scenario-based training can be an effective method for conveying key aspects of BWC policy and having officers develop habit under realistic training scenarios.

The BWC PIP program has enabled many agencies to network with and learn best practices from multiple departments. Below are some takeaways on the benefits of having your own BWC training approach for your agency.

Potential Benefits in Establishing Your Own BWC Training

  • Ability to identify and design the training objectives that are specific to your agency
    • Explain the department’s goals for the BWC program
    • Tailor training from pre-service to in-service
    • Increase policy adherence and accountability
    • Incorporate unique considerations for specialized units (SWAT, school officers, etc.)
    • Integrate prosecutors into the training
    • Promote awareness among your officers of your community’s expectations and concerns regarding BWCs
  • Create training feedback loops
    • Obtain direct, candid, and on-going feedback from your officers and prosecutors
      • Adjust the training when needed
      • Utilize your own footage for future training examples
  • Establish department “subject experts” to conduct the BWC trainings
    • Create an embedded resource for the department
    • Participate in “Train the Trainer” opportunities, especially for Regional Approaches with BWCs
    • Develop a mechanism for remedial training if needed
    • Assign the training experts to be “BWC Public Information Officers” for external inquires or education and for courtroom testimony
  • Increase awareness of your department’s technical capabilities and limitations
  • Integrate BWC training with other trainings, such as scenario-based tactical trainings
    • Reinforce BWC activation through muscle memory under stressful conditions
    • Train officers to use BWCs as a tool to tell the story on calls when appropriate
  • Plan for adaptability and sustainability
    • Update your training when BWC technology changes
    • Utilize your established training curriculum for new officers or lateral hires transitioning

"In addition to the standard training benefits once BWC’s have been implemented, there are ways to utilize them beyond the standard examples of vendor training. The need to think broadly regarding training is important with BWC’s. Use of actual incidents for all types of training including a “best practice” can be one of your most valuable tools. Depending on the department’s comfort level, you can use incidents where things may not have gone the proper way and use that as an example of what not to do. This is not in a way to be punitive towards an officer but to use it as an example of what needs to be corrected, especially if it seems to be a reoccurring problem or wide-spread issue. Utilizing BWC’s for defensive tactics, use of force, active shooter, and de-escalation trainings can provide simulated examples for how the incidents will be captured and can be reviewed for improved training or further review."

Geoffrey D. Smith
Director of Public Safety 
Sturgis, MI 

There are numerous training opportunities available for police officers throughout the country; however, due to limited resources (including staffing), agencies must prioritize the hours of training they can allocate to each officer. By examining the impacts that BWCs could have on your organization, including impacts on officer safety, evidentiary impacts, and impacts on credibility and public trust, your department can recognize the significant benefits of establishing its own BWC training program.

For additional information related to BWC training, please see the BWC Training Guide. The BWC Training Guide is a facilitator’s guide for law enforcement agencies seeking to develop or modify their BWC training programs. In addition, PowerPoint slides for that guide can be found here. 

If your agency would like to request related training and technical assistance (TTA) on this topic, please complete our TTA Request Form.  


Tom Woodmansee is a Senior Advisor at CNA, working on BWC TTA. Prior to joining CNA, he worked for the Madison, Wisconsin Police Department for 25 years. Mr. Woodmansee's has worked as a Patrol Officer, Undercover Narcotics Officer, and 13-years as a Detective. He also served on the SWAT team as a tactical operator, later as a Negotiator and then a Commander overseeing 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 the BJA's Strategies for Policing Innovation and BJA National Public Safety Partnership.

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.