A.Purpose of the Document
This paper was designed to accompany the Model Policy on Body-Worn Cameras established by the IACP National Law Enforcement Policy Center. This paper provides essential background material and supporting documentation to provide greater understanding of the developmental philosophy and implementation requirements for the model policy. This material will be of value to law enforcement executives in their efforts to tailor the model to the requirements and circumstances of their community and their law enforcement agency.
Video recorders and digital cameras have been useful tools in the law enforcement profession for some years. Advances in technology have improved camera equipment and enhanced the development of the body-worn camera (BWC). While many police agencies have taken advantage of these advancements even more have overlooked or are unaware of their usefulness, or have chosen not to deploy them.
The concept of recording police-citizen encounters for law enforcement use first developed with the implementation of in-car cameras. Initially, these devices were installed to document interactions with individuals suspected of driving under the influence, with the recordings providing supporting evidence needed for conviction.1 Over time, agencies discovered in-car cameras had numerous additional benefits, such as “increased officer safety; documentation of traffic violations, citizen behavior, and other events; reduced court time and prosecutor burden; video evidence for use in internal investigations; reduced frivolous lawsuits; and increased likelihood of successful prosecution.”2 All of these advantages also apply to the BWC, as will be discussed further in this document.
- Uses for Body-Worn Cameras
Many police officers now use BWCs to document interactions with victims, witnesses, and others during police-citizen encounters, at crime and incident scenes, and during traffic stops. In many instances police agencies have found the BWC useful for officers in the favorable resolution of both administrative and criminal complaints and as a defense resource in cases of civil liability. Officers using these recorders have a clearly documented, firsthand, completely objective account of what was said during an incident in question. The utilization of BWC video and audio recordings at trial can provide the court with the actual statements of officers, suspects, and others that might not otherwise be admissible in court based upon hearsay concerns, or might not get sufficient consideration if there are conflicting memories of the statements. In addition, recordings made at crime and incident scenes are a tangible benefit of BWCs and can provide investigators, prosecutors, and juries with far more detailed, accurate, and compelling evidence.
The use of BWCs gives officers, their agencies, administrators, and employing jurisdictions an additional means of defending themselves in civil litigation. This is extremely useful in resolving citizen complaints and 2Ibid., pg. 11.2potential civil actions. During many police-citizen contacts there are no objective witnesses to corroborate either allegations of misfeasance or explanations of the interaction and so many jurisdictions are more willing to resolve these matters by paying minor damages rather than spend time and money in litigation. However, an officer utilizing a BWC typically has all the comments and actions of both parties on record and thus has a built-in “impartial witness” on his or her person—a factor that has often resulted in civil suits before they would otherwise have been formally lodged. In one study of in-car camera recordings, “in cases where video evidence was available, the officer was exonerated 93% of the time; in 5% of the cases the complaint was sustained.”3 In addition, the same study showed that in a large number of instances, the individual decided against filing a complaint once he or she was notified that there was a video recording of the incident.4
The BWC has also proven to be effective in helping police agencies evaluate police officer performance in a more complete and fair manner. Supervisory personnel are able to review officer conduct and performance on a random or systematic basis by reviewing BWC recordings. This allows the supervisor to ensure that the BWC is being used in accordance with department policy and to identify any areas in which additional officer training, guidance, or discipline may be required.
Introduction and subsequent broad acceptance of in-car mobile video recording equipment has played a significant role in proving the effectiveness and utility of recording equipment in law enforcement. However, vehicle-mounted video recorders are limited in their field of vision and are not of assistance to officers on foot patrol or who are engaged in investigations or interactions beyond transmission range of their vehicles. The BWC is a convenient and relatively inexpensive means of more fully documenting contacts and interactions with citizens, suspects, and others in a wide variety of situations. It gives them a reliable and compact tool to systematically and automatically record their field observations and encounters.
However, in most cases BWCs should not be viewed as a low-cost alternative to in-car video recorders, but rather a complementary technology. In-car camera systems can provide important information that is currently unavailable with BWCs. For instance, most in-car camera systems can be linked to vehicle systems and record vehicle location, speed, application of brakes; indicate activation of lights and siren; and capture other data that could be vitally important if an accident or other unanticipated event should occur. For example, recording of an officer’s activity from 3Ibid., pg. 15.4Ibid., the patrol car often includes accidents that occur during a traffic stop that would not necessarily be seen by the BWC while the officer interacts with the motorist. Most in-car systems also provide the option of installing a secondary camera to record any activity in the back seat of the patrol car.
Police officers are aware that contact with citizens during routine traffic stops or in other types of police-public interactions can result in confrontational situations. It has been the experience of many officers who have been in potentially hostile or confrontational situations and who are equipped with audio or video recording devices that inform the subject that he or she is being recorded by one or both of these means often serves to de-escalate or defuse the situation. The subject realizes in these situations that his or her statements cannot be denied or refuted later because there is a recording documenting every aspect of the encounter. The same concept can be applied to officer behavior. In a one-year study conducted by the Rialto, California, Police Department, citizen complaints of officer misconduct fell by 87.5 percent for officers using BWCs, while uses of force by such officers fell by 59 percent.5
Finally, the availability of video and audio recordings as evidence is critically important and can be the key to successful prosecution. For example, there is often nothing more compelling to a judge or jury than actually seeing the actions and hearing the words uttered by a suspect, including statements of hostility and anger.
Throughout the United States, courts are backlogged with cases waiting to be heard and officers who are spending time in court that could be used more productively in enforcement activities. The availability of audio and/or video recorded evidence increases the ability of prosecutors to obtain guilty verdicts more easily and quickly at trial or to more effectively plea-bargain cases, avoiding lengthy trial proceedings. In jurisdictions that employ audio and visual evidence, officers normally submit their recordings along with a written report, which is later reviewed by the prosecuting attorney. When the accused and his or her attorney are confronted with this evidence, guilty pleas are more often obtained without the need for a trial or the pressure to accept a plea to lesser charges. This substantially reduces the amount of time an officer must spend in court and utilizes prosecutorial and judicial resources more efficiently.
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