December 17, 2014

Body Cameras

In recent months there have been many public cries for law enforcement agencies to use body cameras. President Obama recently announced that he would request $75 million in federal funds to distribute 50,000 body cameras to police departments nationwide, as part of a package to improve police relations with the public.  The cameras are seen as a way to improve evidence collection, strengthen officer performance and accountability, enhance agency transparency, document encounters between police and the public, and investigate and resolve complaints involving officers.

But according to a recent Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) report, although the cameras offer benefits, their use also raises concerns, including concerns about misuse and the public’s privacy rights. The report recommends that “before agencies invest considerable time and money” to deploy body cameras, they consider these concerns and consult with frontline officers, unions, prosecutors, community groups, other stakeholders, and the general public. The report suggests that such input will, among other things, increase the perceived legitimacy of a department’s body camera policy.  PERF recommends that agency policies cover the following topics, among others:
  1. basic camera usage, including who will wear the cameras and where the cameras will be placed;
  2. the staff member responsible for ensuring cameras are charged and working properly;
  3. recording protocols, including when to activate or turn off the camera and the types of circumstances in which recording is required, allowed, or prohibited;
  4. procedures for downloading, storing, and safeguarding the data;
  5. the method for documenting chain of custody of the data;
  6. how long records will be retained;
  7. data access and review;
  8. the policies for releasing recorded data to the public;
  9. training; and 
  10. policy and program evaluation.