An agency’s policy is just as important, if not more important, than their body camera. The policy is the guide in which an agency implements the use of their cameras to assist in their duties and create a safer community. There are many things to consider when crafting a body-worn camera policy. It is imperative to include policy sections that accommodate every step in the process, from the moment the camera is activated to the moment the footage is stored and shared. Here are a few points to consider when writing a body camera policy:
When should an officer turn their body camera on or off?
Typically the responsibility to capture footage in critical situations is on the officer. Stating and clarifying when an officer is required to turn on their camera is vital to clearly understand when video footage should be collected. Two examples of when an officer should turn on their camera are when they draw their weapon and during a foot pursuit.
Unlike traditional body cameras, eos by Utility (formerly BodyWorn) removes the officer’s burden of remembering to turn on their camera, especially in a high-risk situation. With eos by Utility, there are customizable automations that notifies one’s body-worn camera to start recording automatically. Suppose the officer draws his or her gun from its holster; eos by Utility has a Holster Sensor that will automate recording. To take things one step further, the system can be configured to record up to two minutes of prepended video, capturing the events leading up to the gun being drawn. Suppose an officer is in an accelerated motion, running or being jostled around in a fight or struggle. In that case, automation triggers turn on the deputy’s body camera. A call from dispatch will trigger the CAD Activation (an automatic feature of the eos body-worn camera) once the officer is within proximity of a dispatched run. There is also a feature that activates the camera, when the officer enters or exits a pre-defined geographical area or action zone. Once the officer enters or exits that location, this will automate their camera to start or stop recording. All features and triggers can be customized and adapted to fit your agency’s specific needs.
When can the officer view the footage?
There must be clear guidelines for officers to know when they can view their footage. There may be moments while on duty an officer needs to playback what was recorded for clarification on their reports or for further investigation. There may also be moments when an officer may be prohibited from viewing footage after an incident, such as a use-of-force incident. This should be outlined in an agency’s policy to maintain clear and concise uniform standards for all situations in the field.
How will body camera footage be stored and shared?
A vital part of implementing a body camera policy is effectively communicating how information collected from the body camera is stored. A common way of transferring the footage from the device to the agency is through docking or uploading stations. This method of storing critical information leaves a lot of room for error if it is not effectively communicated and outlined in the policy. This also puts a lot of the burden on the officer and delays the time the data can be shared.
Keeping video evidence stored on the body camera until the end of a shift leaves it vulnerable and at risk of being lost, stolen, or damaged. Alternatively, eos by Utility’s system (formerly BodyWorn) automatically uploads all video, audio, and metadata to secure cloud storage while the officer is still in the field. This keeps the integrity of the video safe and secure.
When are officers required to record interactions with civilians?
There should be guidelines identifying the different circumstances of when an officer should record an interaction with a community member. Additionally, the policy should state whether or not the camera should be recording while in a private residence or location that calls for increased privacy, such as a hospital. On the other hand, if law enforcement action is taken or lives are in danger, this may supersede this guideline.
Privacy is a concern when citizens are involved. The AvailWeb platform provides tools that can manage and regulate the information collected from eos by Utility. The Smart Redaction feature in AvailWeb automatically redacts hours of video evidence, protecting privacy while allowing transparency. This is essential when sharing footage or releasing information to the public.
How can the use of the body-worn camera serve and protect the community?
The community an agency protects should be an essential part when thinking of their body camera policy. Each jurisdiction is different; therefore, each agency should adapt its policy to its community’s needs and standards. An agency’s policy should continuously update and adjust to the community’s ever-changing environment and culture. According to the US Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services and Police Executive Research Forum, “…video footage should be made available to the public upon request—not only because the videos are public records but also because doing so enables police departments to demonstrate transparency and openness in their interactions with members of the community.”
An essential resource when creating a body camera policy is the experience of fellow agencies and law enforcement officers. Find out what other departments have done in the past and what they are currently doing, as well as how each agency is adapting and improving their policy over time. For more information and real-life examples of agency policy implementation, read ‘The Need for Policy-Based Automatic Recording in Today’s Body-Worn Camera Programs’ on Police Chief Magazine.
Interested in seeing policy examples? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.