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Body Worn Cameras

Body-worn camera’s video (BWV), also known as body cameras and body-worn cameras, or wearable cameras is a wearable audio, video, or photographic recording system.

Body-worn video has a range of uses and designs, of which the best-known use is as a part of policing equipment. Other uses include action cameras for social and recreational (including cycling), within commerce, in healthcare and medical use, in military use, journalism, citizen surveillance, and covert surveillance.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: What is a body-worn camera (BWC)?
A: A BWC generally consists of a closed- circuit video recording device worn by law enforcement personnel. It typically attaches to the front of an officer’s shirt or collar, but can also attach to an officer’s hat or glasses. The types of cameras, methods of activation and storage requirements can differ greatly. The BWC stores digital files that, once recorded, can be protected from deletion or editing. BWCs typically have a unique identifier, and time- and date-stamped recordings.

Q: Where are the recordings stored?
A: Digital video recordings from BWCs can be stored on in-house servers that can be managed by the agency, reduced to digital media (CDs and DVDs) and placed in an evidence file and/or online cloud databases and archives that are managed by third-party vendors. The decision on how/where the recordings are stored will vary by agency.

Q: Are BWC devices going to replace squad car cameras?
A: No. Agencies will most likely continue to use car-mounted cameras even if their officers are equipped with BWCs. BWCs can potentially capture information and videos that the mounted device cannot, thus providing the potential for a more complete picture of the interaction between the officer and third party, as well as other facts and details that may be important to an investigation.

Q: What happens with the recordings, and how long does the agency keep them?
A: Regulations (federal, state, local or law agency imposed) may require records to be retained for a certain amount of time. Other factors that may come into play regarding the length an agency will store recordings: cost of recording storage, server capacity, technology upgrades and vendor changes. The law agency and its legal counsel may want to consider establishing a written procedure for purging recordings based on the type of evidence or interactions captured. For example, if an officer assists a citizen or handles a minor traffic matter, the recording may be retained for a short period of time (e.g., 30-90 days), whereas the recording of a Taser incident, shooting or crime scene may be kept much longer, particularly if it is part of an ongoing investigation and/or legal proceeding.

Q: Should the law agency develop a body-worn camera policy?
A: Yes, a written BWC policy should be developed to address training, device usage, and access and security. To best address specific legal concerns, an agency should consult with legal counsel regarding these issues. These policies may include requirements that officers should receive training in all necessary technical aspects of the specific equipment and its use, in addition to training on elements such as:

  • Legal implications of BWC use
  • Practical use issues
  • Evidential continuity
  • Professional standards (custody/control) Some of the specific policies to consider may include:
  • Identify and train officers
  • Records retention policies
  • Written BWC guidelines
  • Protocols for information sharing
  • Pre-post BWC activation procedures
  • Internal audit processes
  • Maintenance of video/audio
  • Equipment maintenance recordings procedures
  • Security protocols for storage

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