Body Worn Cameras – An Overview

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A BWC program is much more than purchasing a camera for each officer; it includes updating policies and procedures, changing or improving business practices and workflows, assigning and training system administrators, choosing storage options, defining evidence retention, responding to public records requests, protecting citizens’ privacy, and ensuring court requirements/evidence sharing needs are met.
Winbourne Consulting Bodyworn Camera

A body worn camera (BWC) has become an important tool for law enforcement. They document law enforcement incidents, provide better evidence collection, improve officer performance and accountability, aid in complaint review and resolution, and increase department transparency and accountability. The BWC records the event as seen by the officer, without bias, in real time, and depict events without conflicting statements from officers, witness, suspects, or arrestees while demonstrating how quick officers must make decisions, especially in use of force situations.

Behavior: When an event is recorded, behavior of both citizens and officers improves. The videos create a record that allows everyone to see exactly what happened, including “the good, the bad and the ugly.”

Complaints: BWC videos typically decrease the number of complaints against officers. When citizen complaints are filed against an officer, BWC footage often brings a faster resolution, especially in complaints of excessive use of force or officer misconduct. In the past, when there was no way to validate a complaint, the complaint was closed because there was no evidence or witnesses to corroborate the event. This created distrust between citizens and law enforcement.

Evidence: BWC recordings are used as evidence in arrests, often resulting in a guilty plea, which reduces the number of cases going to court (saving taxpayer dollars). In prosecutions, the BWC video provides documented evidence frequently producing a guilty verdict.

Training: BWC videos are useful tools allowing trainers and leaders to assess and improve behavior during training exercises. After-the-fact reviews of real events such as vehicle pursuits, use of force, crowds/protests, MCI, etc., are valuable for future training programs or policy changes.

Body Worn Camera Program: An often-overlooked fact is a BWC program is an operational project, not a technical project. This is where many agencies fail by focusing on the technical aspects or allowing the technical staff to define device requirements and choosing the BWC vendor. Operations identifies the goals and objectives, though technical staff is necessary for installation, system administration and support.

BWC programs are expensive and require a significant level of effort; a decision to implement should not be made lightly. While there are many benefits of BWCs, numerous departments skip the upfront efforts necessary to procure and implement a successful program. A BWC program is much more than purchasing a camera for each officer; it includes updating policies and procedures, changing or improving business practices and workflows, assigning and training system administrators, choosing storage options, defining evidence retention, responding to public records requests, protecting citizens’ privacy, and ensuring court requirements/evidence sharing needs are met.

Frequently, leadership attends a conference and learns about BWCs, or they want to emulate another agency’s BWC program by simply using the same vendor and purchasing the same equipment. It is not that easy. A successful BWC program begins with educating all stakeholders involved: procurement, executive leadership, BWC end users, internal affairs/professional standards staff, records staff, court staff, system administrators, and technical support staff. Key factors include personnel bandwidth, the level of effort to complete tasks and achieve milestones, stakeholder expectations, and outside influences on staff such as other ongoing projects, pandemic issues, large community events/dates, etc.

A BWC Project: A BWC Project plan begins with executive direction from leadership, their strategic vision, and the goals and objectives to define a successful program. Next, prepare a concept of operations, review/analyze current policies (BWC, digital evidence, public records request, etc.), technical infrastructure evaluation, and a total cost of ownership report which includes initial and recurring costs.

RFI/RFP/Vendor Demos/Contract/Implementation: A Request for Information (RFI) is a starting point for a brief introduction to the features, functionalities, and capabilities of BWC vendors. From these short demos, an agency can see a variety of the features, functionalities, and capabilities to include in the RFP. A comprehensive RFP is essential for quality responses. After RFP response review, a prepared scoring and evaluation chart is used to decide the final two vendors who then present a demonstration which is significantly more in-depth than the short RFI demo. The vendor demonstration should include agency-specific scripted scenarios used by the agency to see the equipment in use. A final vendor is chosen (using the previously prepared scoring guidelines), and contract negotiations begin. Implementation includes training to proficiency on the new policies and procedures, business processes and workflows, and use of the hardware itself. Vendors will typically promise one-to-two-hour training requirements, which does not include policy and procedures improvements. It is imperative to not skip these steps in the training plan.

Choosing A Device: The device or camera itself should meet agency expectations. Size, weight, ruggedness, weather resistance, tamper resistance, battery life, charging options, mounting options, message indicators, no/low light abilities, field of view, frames per second, video tagging, covert mode (and much more) are all features to consider when choosing a device.

Evidence Management: The digital evidence management software is crucial to evidence retention, evidence sharing (courts), public records requests, redaction (privacy rights/protection), IA investigations, and reports for leadership, management, and professional standards staff. Note: Redaction software is sometimes purchased separately for a stronger, more efficient redaction processes.

Quality Assurance/Quality Improvement: A robust QA/QI policy is necessary to ensure the agency is operating as designed and meets the goals and objectives of leadership. Policy driven reviews of usage, video review, uploading, downloading, sharing, tagging, etc., maintain the integrity of the program.

Policy Review: During the RFI/RFP process, a review of current policies is an absolute necessity. Department policies and procedures will define when the BWC must be used, when it is optional (officer discretion) and when it must not be used (schools, churches, etc.) Policy will also define business processes and workflows for downloading, uploading, evidence retention, court requirements/ sharing of evidence, redaction, and public records requests. Failing to have best practices and procedures, sound policies and proficient training might not only cause the program to fail, but it could also undermine the public trust the department intended to improve.

Winbourne Consulting has been serving the Public Safety and Law Enforcement community for over 20 years, and has assisted numerous agencies with the acquisition and implementation of a Body Worn Camera Program. For additional information, contact Winbourne Consulting at Info@w-llc.com.

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