Friday, March 6, 2015

Guiding Law Enforcement in the Development of a Body-Worn Camera Program

March 6, 2015
Courtesy of Assistant Attorney General Karol V. Mason

This week, the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing released its interim report recommending, among other things, that law enforcement agencies take steps to use technology in a way that strengthens relationships with the communities they serve.  Among the most promising tools available are body-worn cameras, which are being implemented or pilot tested in more than 3,000 departments across the country.  Evidence suggests that body-worn cameras can help de-escalate potentially violent encounters, and research shows that departments that deploy cameras receive fewer public complaints.

Last week, the White House and the Office of Justice Programs’ Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) brought together more than 100 experts to talk about the benefits and challenges related to the adoption of this technology and to begin developing an online toolkit that can serve as a one-stop shop of resources on body-worn camera usage.  For two days, leaders from small, medium, large, rural, and tribal law enforcement agencies – as well as researchers, prosecutors, public defenders, victim advocates, privacy advocates, and other stakeholders – discussed a wide range of topics, from procurement and maintenance to storage and training.  The panel dove deeply into policy and legal issues, particularly into questions surrounding privacy and the fair and transparent use of body-worn technology.

The meeting was in response to President Obama’s December 2014 announcement of a Body-Worn Camera Partnership Program.  The President has proposed substantial investments in the purchase of body-worn cameras and in training and technical assistance to ensure that they are used in a way that enhances public safety, protects civil liberties, and heightens trust.  Deploying this technology requires carefully designed policies and procedures, not to mention additional staff time and a close attention to legal considerations.  As the President has said, it must be “embedded in a broader change in culture and a legal framework that ensures that people's privacy is respected and that not only police officers but the community. . . feels comfortable with how technologies are being used.”  The work begun by the panel will help law enforcement agencies navigate this new terrain.

BJA, who is leading this work, plans to launch the Body-Worn Camera Toolkit later this spring and we will continue to update it as more information and evidence become available.  We encourage those who have ideas and new resources to share, to e-mail AskBWC@usdoj.gov.
 
Updated March 6, 2015

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