Body-worn or body cameras are popular tools among law enforcement agencies to improve policing. They collect video and audio footage of police interactions with civilians.
The recordings can help protect police officers against false accusations, claims of misconduct, or abuse. They also increase transparency and accountability.
How Do body cameras Work?
Body-worn cameras can be valuable for prosecutors, defense attorneys, and law enforcement agencies. They provide a way to capture video and audio of an arrest, police-citizen interactions, and use-of-force incidents.
They can also help prevent and resolve complaints from the public. In addition, they work to train officers and strengthen police transparency, performance, and accountability.
Law enforcement organizations have recently begun implementing body camera programs throughout the United States. Some of these programs have doubled in size over the last few years.
A tool like a WatchGuard body camera is the main reason for this increase. Law enforcement officials see them as a tool that can help improve community trust and increase accountability.
Who Wears Them?
There are still significant differences in how body-worn cameras work and when the video is going public, even though they are generally assisting and frequently play a crucial role in high-profile police killings. Those differences are primarily given by state laws and local policies that are still in debate.
Those policy differences have been shown to affect police use of force, citizen complaints, and police-community relations. For example, the Chicago Police Department spent 400 days withholding video of an officer fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald until a Cook County judge ordered its release.
This map shows how states and police departments around the country currently make body-worn camera footage available to the public under public records laws. The map’s color indicates whether there is legislation or a policy regarding public access to police body-worn camera footage.
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What Are They Recording?
Law enforcement body-worn cameras capture video footage of police encounters with the public. The videos often have time and date stamps, GPS coordinates, and other information.
Body camera technology is constantly evolving, resulting in new features and innovations. Some bodycams now come with automatic triggers that start recording when an officer draws their weapon from a holster or activates a siren.
In addition, body cameras can also be connected to Bluetooth triggers that automatically start recording when an officer’s vehicle door opens, a crash sensor starts, or a nearby dashboard or dashboard-mounted camera starts working. These triggers ensure that recordings are captured for nearly every critical incident.
How Long Do They Store Them?
Law enforcement agencies using body-worn cameras must develop policies and procedures for when to turn on the camera, how long to store the footage, and when to release the video to the public. This process can be difficult by laws that govern police wiretapping and public records requests that may clash with department policies.
The length of time data keeps on what the recordings depict. Videos of critical incidents such as arrests and the use of force are usually kept for months or years.
Non-evidentiary recordings keep for 60 to 90 days typically. This length can vary from agency to agency, but most will post their policy on their website for transparency.
What Do They Do With Them?
Law enforcement agencies around the world outfit officers with body cameras, which they use to monitor officer-citizen interactions. They argue that the devices will help police departments reduce their liability, improve transparency and increase public trust in policing.
In addition to these benefits, proponents of body camera programs also say that they help protect officers from false accusations, reduce citizen complaints and provide evidence in court. However, there’s a lot of uncertainty about whether body-worn cameras work.
For example, a study of eight police departments in the United States and the UK found that body cameras have little to no effect on police behavior. While there was a reduction in civilian complaints, evaluators notice that they did not significantly impact arrests or arrests with force.