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PERF Report: “Implementing a Body-Worn Camera Program - Recommendations and Lessons Learned”

September 18, 2014 | National News

The Police Executive Research Forum's Report on body cameras is now available. The Report addresses a complex of strategic and tactical questions associated with adopting a body camera program.


From PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler:

"Last year, the Justice Department asked PERF to identify the issues raised by this new technology, and to produce recommendations for police agencies that may be interested in deploying body cameras.

PERF convened a conference on body cameras last September.  We also have been conducting research, interviewing police executives about their experiences with body cameras, and analyzing policies that have been adopted by many departments.

Our final report analyzes the issues and provides 33 detailed recommendations on a wide range of questions, including the following:

  • When should officers be required to activate body-worn cameras, and under what circumstances may they be allowed to turn the cameras on and off?
  • Should officers be required to inform subjects that they are being recorded?
  • What should officers do if a crime victim or witness does not want to be recorded?
  • Who should download the video from an officer's camera?
  • How can supervisors prevent officers from tampering with or deleting video footage?
  • How long should various types of recordings be retained before they can be deleted?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of storing video recordings in-house, as opposed to contracting out that function?
  • Within a law enforcement agency, who should be allowed to review body camera footage?
  • How should police agencies approach questions about releasing video recordings to the public and the news media?
  • What should be included in training of officers to use body cameras?

The detailed answers to these questions are found in our report and recommendations. As a general matter, one point that I would like to highlight is that PERF found many reasons to believe that body cameras can benefit the field of policing, but we caution against rushing into a body camera program without thinking through all of the implications.

The benefits are clear:  Body cameras can help to de-escalate encounters between officers and members of the public, because most people tend to behave better if they know they are being recorded.  So police chiefs who have deployed cameras tell us that confrontational incidents and complaints against officers decline.  Cameras sometimes uncover problems with officers' training that can be remedied. Cameras can provide officers with protection against false complaints, or they can provide important evidence if an officer's actions are improper.  And cameras can give the community a sense that their police are accountable for their actions.

The implications of launching a body-worn camera program are very significant.  If you deploy body cameras, you create a reasonable expectation that the videos will be made available to the news media and the public.  You will need to set strict policies on when officers must turn the cameras on and off.  If there is a critical incident but the officer failed to capture it on video, the camera program may actually damage your relationship of trust with the community. 

Decisions about whether to release a particular video to the public can be complex, balancing the public's interest in seeing a video against a crime victim's privacy, for example.  And the logistical issues are enormous.  Video recordings consume large quantities of digital data.  Even if you contract out the task of storing the data, you may need to hire people to respond to public requests for particular videos.  This can involve the time-consuming task of redacting certain sections of a video.  The costs of purchasing cameras are relatively small, compared to the monthly costs of maintaining and managing the video recordings.