Implementing a Body-Worn Camera Program: Recommendations and Lessons Learned

The following guide was produced by by the Police Executive Research Forum under a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.


Implementing a Body-Worn Camera Program: Recommendations and Lessons Learned

  • 92 pages
  • September 2014
  • 4.4 MB


Over the past decade, advances in the technologies used by law enforcement agencies have been accelerating at an extremely rapid pace. Many police executives are making decisions about whether to acquire technologies that did not exist when they began their careers—technologies like automated license plate readers, gunshot detection systems, facial recognition software, predictive analytics systems, communications systems that bring data to officers’ laptops or handheld devices, GPS applications, and social media to investigate crimes and communicate with the public.

For many police executives, the biggest challenge is not deciding whether to adopt one particular technology but rather finding the right mix of technologies for a given jurisdiction based on its crime problems, funding levels, and other factors. Finding the best mix of technologies, however, must begin with a thorough understanding of each type of technology.

Police leaders who have deployed body-worn cameras say there are many benefits associated with the devices. They note that body-worn cameras are useful for documenting evidence; officer training; preventing and resolving complaints brought by members of the public; and strengthening police transparency, performance, and accountability. In addition, given that police now operate in a world in which anyone with a cell phone camera can record video footage of a police encounter, body-worn cameras help police departments ensure events are also captured from an officer’s perspective. Scott Greenwood of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said at the September 2013 conference:

The average interaction between an officer and a citizen in an urban area is already recorded in multiple ways. The citizen may record it on his phone. If there is some conflict happening, one or more witnesses may record it. Often there are fixed security cameras nearby that capture the interaction. So the thing that makes the most sense—if you really want accountability both for your officers and for the people they interact with—is to also have video from the officer’s perspective.

The use of body-worn cameras also raises important questions about privacy and trust. What are the privacy issues associated with recording victims of crime? How can officers maintain positive community relationships if they are ordered to record almost every type of interaction with the public? Will members of the public find it off-putting to be told by an officer, “I am recording this encounter,” particularly if the encounter is a casual one? Do body-worn cameras also undermine the trust between officers and their superiors within the police department?

In addition to these overarching issues, police leaders must also consider many practical policy issues, including the significant financial costs of deploying cameras and storing recorded data, training requirements, and rules and systems that must be adopted to ensure that body-worn camera video cannot be accessed for improper reasons.

Lessons learned about impact on community relationships

In their conversations with PERF staff members, police executives and other experts revealed a number of lessons that they have learned when addressing the impact body-worn cameras can have on community relationships:

• Engaging the community prior to implementing a camera program can help secure support for the program and increase the perceived legitimacy of the program in the community.
• Agencies have found it useful to communicate with the public, local policymakers, and other stakeholders about what the cameras will be used for and how the cameras will affect them.
• Social media is an effective way to facilitate public engagement.
• Transparency about the agency’s camera policies and practices, both prior to and after implementation, can help increase public acceptance and hold agencies accountable. Examples of transparency include posting policies on the department website and publicly releasing video recordings of controversial incidents.
• Requiring officers to record calls for service and law enforcement-related activities—rather than every encounter with the public—can ensure officers are not compelled to record the types of casual conversations that are central to building informal relationships within the community.
• In cases in which persons are unwilling to share information about a crime if they are being recorded, it is a valuable policy to give officers discretion to deactivate their cameras or to position the camera to record only audio. Officers should consider whether obtaining the information outweighs the potential evidentiary value of capturing the statement on video.
• Recording the events at a live crime scene can help officers capture spontaneous statements and impressions that may be useful in the later investigation or prosecution.
• Requiring officers to document, on camera or in writing, the reasons why they deactivated a camera in situations that they are otherwise required to record promotes officer accountability.

Addressing officer concerns

Agencies have taken various steps to address officer concerns about body-worn cameras. One of the most important steps, according to many police executives, is for agency leaders to engage in open communication with officers about what body-worn cameras will mean for them.

For example, a survey of officers conducted by the Vacaville (California) Police Department found that including officers in the implementation process—and allowing them to provide meaningful input—generated support for the cameras. Some police executives, like Chief Chitwood of Daytona Beach and Chief Lanpher of Aberdeen, have found it useful to attend officer briefings, roll calls, and meetings with union representatives to discuss the camera program. “My staff and I invested considerable time talking at briefings and department meetings with all employees who would be affected by body-worn cameras,” said Chief of Police Michael Frazier of Surprise, Arizona. “This has helped us gain support for the program.”

Many police executives said that creating implementation teams comprised of representatives from various units within the department can help improve the legitimacy of a body-worn camera program. For example, as agencies develop body-worn camera policies and protocols, it can be useful to receive input from patrol commanders and officers, investigators, training supervisors, the legal department, communications staff, Internal Affairs personnel, evidence management personnel, and others across the agency who will be involved with body-worn cameras. Police executives also said it is important to emphasize to officers that body-worn cameras are useful tools that can help them perform their duties. Chief Terry Gainer, U.S. Senate sergeant at arms, believes that framing body-worn cameras as a check on officer behavior is the wrong approach. “It’s going to be hard to encourage our officers to be the self-actualized professionals that we want them to be if we say, ‘Wear this because we’re afraid you’re bad, and cameras will help you prove that you’re good,’” said Gainer. “Body cameras should be seen as a tool for creating evidence that will help ensure public safety.”

Lieutenant John Carli of Vacaville, California, suggests that agencies frame the cameras as a teaching tool, rather than a disciplinary measure, by encouraging supervisors to review footage with officers and provide constructive feedback. One suggestion to accomplish this goal is to highlight officers whose videos demonstrate exemplary performance by showing their footage at training programs or by showing the video during an awards ceremony.

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