Answers to “You Decide” Boxes

Suggested answers to “You Decide” boxes in the text provide a well-researched rationale behind the recommended response to key issues facing the law enforcement profession.

The following comments were obtained from:

Miller, Lindsay, Jessica Toliver, and Police Executive Research Forum. 2014. Implementing a Body-Worn Camera Program: Recommendations and Lessons Learned. Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

Even as police departments are increasingly adopting body-worn cameras, many questions about this technology have yet to be answered. In an effort to address these questions and produce policy guidance to law enforcement agencies, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), with support from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office), conducted research in 2013 on the use of body-worn cameras. This research project consisted of three major components an informal survey of 500 law enforcement agencies nationwide, interviews with police executives, and a conference in which police chiefs and other experts from across the country gathered to discuss the use of body-worn cameras.

PERF distributed surveys to 500 police departments nationwide in July, 2013.The exploratory survey was designed to examine the nationwide usage of body-worn cameras and to identify the primary issues that need to be considered. Questions covered topics such as recording requirements; whether certain officers are required to wear body-worn cameras; camera placement on the body; and data collection, storage, and review.

PERF received responses from 254 departments (a 51 percent response rate). Although the use of body-worn cameras is undoubtedly a growing trend, over 75 percent of the respondents reported that they did not use body-worn cameras as of July, 2013.

Of the 63 agencies that reported using body-worn cameras, nearly one-third did not have a written policy governing usage. Many police executives reported that their hesitance to implement a written policy was due to a lack of guidance on what the policies should include, which highlights the need for a relevant set of standards and best practices.

The recent emergence of the technology has already impacted policing, and this impact will increase as more agencies adopt it. Police agencies should make the decision to use cameras carefully. Once an agency deploys body-worn cameras, it is difficult to reverse course, because the public will come to expect the availability of video records.

When implemented correctly, body-worn cameras can help strengthen the policing profession. These cameras can help promote agency accountability and transparency, and they can be useful tools for increasing officer professionalism, improving officer training, preserving evidence, and documenting encounters with the public. However, they also raise issues as a practical matter and at the policy level, both of which agencies must thoughtfully examine. Police agencies must determine what adopting body-worn cameras will mean in terms of police-community relationships, privacy, trust and legitimacy, and internal procedural justice for officers.

Police agencies should adopt an incremental approach to implementing a body-worn camera program. This means testing the cameras in pilot programs and engaging officers and the community during implementation. It also means carefully crafting body-worn camera policies that balance accountability, transparency, and privacy rights, as well as preserving the important relationships that exist between officers and members of the community.

PERF’s recommendations provide guidance that is grounded in current research and in the lessons learned from police agencies that have adopted body-worn cameras. However, because the technology is so new, additional research and field experience are needed before the full impact of body-worn cameras can be understood, and PERF’s recommendations may evolve as it gathers new evidence.

As with other new forms of technology, body-worn cameras have the potential to transform the field of policing. To make sure this change is positive, police agencies must think critically about the issues that cameras raise and must give careful consideration when developing body-worn camera policies and practices. First and foremost, agencies must always remember that the ultimate purpose of these cameras should be to help officers protect and serve the people in their communities.