How to Manage the Implementation of your Body-Worn Camera (BWC) Deployment and Improve Outcomes
You have written your policy, you have selected your camera vendor, and you have trained your officers and deployed your cameras. Now what? Will your agency’s deployment be successful? Do you know if it was worth all the time, effort, and resources? Are you able to point out successes to your community and local officials? Are you able to identify challenges and develop solutions? Can you assess implementation progress and improve outcomes to make the deployment more valuable to your agency, your officers, and your community?
Given the time, effort, and expense committed to get your program off the ground, you will obviously want to get the most out of your body-worn camera (BWC) deployment. Responses from a Bureau of Justice Statistics survey shows that local police and sheriffs’ offices acquired BWCs to achieve a variety of important goals, including improving officer safety, increasing evidence quality, reducing civilian complaints, and reducing agency liability. Other noted reasons included improving accountability, improving officer professionalism, improving community perceptions, and reducing use of force. Some of these outcomes can be challenging to measure.
Is your BWC program achieving your goals? How do you go about assessing this question? Are there additional uses for your cameras that will help accomplish those goals?
There are two possible approaches to figuring out the answers to these important questions. You could employ a researcher and conduct an evaluation study of your BWC program. If that is not desirable or not feasible given the costs and time involved, there are other ways to gauge the success of your BWC program, incorporating core elements of evaluations without conducting a full-scale evaluation.
This “In View” commentary focuses on this second path for assessing program impact. The commentary will help you understand how to approach an assessment of your BWC implementation, covering important issues like the utility of BWC video footage as evidence in trial, auditing for policy compliance, use of BWC footage in training, community perceptions, and more.
Evidence Quality and Case Outcomes:
Overall, it is reasonable to expect that BWC footage will add evidentiary value and improve case outcomes. However, the existence of BWC footage itself will not always be a magic elixir. It seldom tells the whole story. The effect of BWC footage will not be equal across all circumstances and contexts. The relative value of BWC footage will vary depending on the presence and strength of other forms of evidence. Under adversarial proceedings, BWC footage may favor either side, the prosecution or defense. BWC footage also will not always be as dispositive as either side would like. Evidentiary factors such as the defendant’s demeanor in court, the absence or presence of a criminal history record, the effectiveness of counsel, or the credibility of witness testimony will still affect prosecutorial decisions and court outcomes in the BWC era.
In both civil and criminal cases, a policy agency can optimize the value of BWC footage by establishing a routine process to communicate with its civil attorney or the assigned district attorney for feedback and insight into the policing activity. The department can ask how the video was useful and how it could be improved. When viewing footage, the attorneys will be looking at the taped activity with a courtroom perspective; their impressions and suggestions can help modify officers’ on-camera actions and improve evidence quality. For example, a prosecutor may prefer officers to narrate on BWC the reasons for their decisions to stop and question someone (e.g., what generated reasonable suspicion), or to conduct a search of a vehicle. Perhaps it is helpful for officers to explain why they are temporarily deactivating BWCs. The department should adopt these suggestions if they make sense from a law enforcement perspective. Routine and systematic, rather than ad hoc or anecdotal, information about these issues, perhaps through a quarterly review and interview process, would be helpful in the first year or two of the BWC program.
Asking attorneys and other outsiders that review your agency for their feedback can help you identify which of your officers use BWC most effectively. You may use those videos or particular individuals that show an aptitude for effective camera use for internal training purposes.
If your officers are not activating their cameras in a timely fashion or not correctly tagging the videos, events might go unrecorded and unpreserved, thereby diminishing the evidentiary value of your BWC program. Virtually all camera systems can run audits and reports, so you can see if your officers are indeed recording, labeling, and categorizing videos correctly. Do not ignore this easy-to-use auditing tool. Conducting audits on a regular basis is preferable. It will set expectations among the officers and provide a steady stream of important feedback. BWC compliance review often falls to first-line supervisors who may not have the time for systematic BWC footage review.
Some agencies take months to get officer buy-in and acceptable levels of activation compliance. Audit reports allow supervisors to address this issue early in order to improve activations rates. Some larger agencies that do not run regular reports find themselves with thousands of unclassified videos down the road that are not linked to any given case. Late-discovered videos might end up excluded in court, potentially jeopardizing criminal cases. Incorrectly tagged videos can result in improper retention schedules or can make the video impossible to retrieve. Weekly or biweekly audit reports with command-level support and oversight will keep your department on track, ensuring camera activation and tagging to prevent videos from being deleted or lost.
As stated above, many policies include periodic random video review by supervisors. In fact, the TTA team has examined more than 300 policies from PIP-funded sites, and nearly all of them require supervisors to review footage of subordinates for BWC policy compliance and general performance evaluation. If supervisors do not review video, why not? Think about the effect on your department if an officer commits misconduct and, in litigation review, it is clear from past videos that you failed to catch ongoing misconduct. Limiting video review to use of force or citizen complaints opens a department to greater liability for failure to stop known or on-notice misconduct.
You should take the time to conduct random video reviews pursuant to your policy. Periodically reviewing the videos ensures the cameras are being used according to department policy, helps evaluate officer on-the-job performance, and highlights training opportunities—all of which can help improve policing practices and professionalism. This effort may be time consuming, but it is truly a great way for a supervisor to observe and assess officer interactions and engage in appropriate feedback, both positive and corrective.
In addition, truly random reviews of BWC footage will identify exemplary police behaviors, providing valuable information for officer recognition, training supplements, and, again, officer buy-in. Random reviews can be conducted in such a way that less meaningful or non-significant BWC footage (e.g., erroneous footage, non-incident related footage) is filtered out of the random selection process, so that more meaningful BWC footage is randomly selected for review. For example, to randomly select meaningful videos for review, a department can set up a protocol to remove certain videos from consideration, such as videos recorded in error or videos recorded to test camera functioning, so that the random selection of videos is from actual videos intended by the agency’s policy. This would still ensure that videos are randomly selected for review, for the purposes of policy compliance monitoring, and would insure that a range of officer behaviors (positive, negative, neutral) are included in the random selection process.
You now have videos of all types of encounters—what a great opportunity to assess and improve outcomes and department professionalism. Use the videos to create various training modules. Focus on videos that identify undesirable outcomes (e.g., rudeness or excessive forces, but do not forget to showcase exemplary interaction caught on video (e.g., successful de-escalation of difficult arrestees or tactful handling of argumentative citizens stopped for speeding).
Your pre-deployment training will shape your post-deployment results. As you teach officers how to physically use the device, consider teaching them about how proper activation benefits them by avoiding potential problems with public perception or false claims. This should help improve their buy-in. Consider scenario-based training, which will help with demonstrating the best ways to capture usable video.
Some of the most applicable videos for training are those involving responses to resistance. These videos provide an additional opportunity to examine how force was used, whether it was effective, and whether it was within policy. They also provide the ability to examine and discuss other options that may have been more appropriate (i.e., was force necessary?). A department should establish a process to regularly examine and use videos for training on force.
Agencies should also assess footage to demonstrate effective communication approaches for a variety of contacts and situations. Videos can promote how officers use communication to de-escalate situations by providing a perspective on the officer’s demeanor and verbal skills. The footage can also show the suspect’s demeanor and behavior. Young officers can learn how an experienced officer handled a difficult interaction, or vice-versa.
Of course, you can and should evaluate safety and tactics when looking at training opportunities. You can review and promote best practices with tactics for specific situations ranging from where cover officers are positioned on an arrest to how a search warrant was executed. These teachable moments can demonstrate how officers used tactics and use of force effectively and appropriately. Whether reinforcing good policing or finding ways to improve actions, videos used for training can help prevent adverse outcomes.
Finally, think about assessing officer deportment and effectiveness in searches through consent or the acquisition of reasonable suspicion and probable cause. Demonstrating these encounters in training will enhance prosecution charging decisions, suppression motions, and the ability to show juries what occurred.
Community Perception & Accountability:
The videos give you the opportunity to proactively demonstrate good police work that media may not recognize. Footage can show the vast complexities of the job and illustrate the nuances of everyday decision-making. Footage can show how officers use discretion in varying—often complex—scenarios. It can also show officers displaying patience, active listening, empathy, and other key elements of effective de-escalation. Many agencies are reluctant to proactively release videos, but they should fully consider the community perception upside of demonstrating all the good work your officers are doing.
BWCs provide a mechanism to not only promote good police work but also to identify officers who need retraining or who should be disciplined (or fired). The video can also illustrate to the community and media misunderstood, false, or improper accusations about police actions. These benefits all require video to maximize accountability.
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