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3 phases of body-worn camera training that police departments need to adopt

Developing a comprehensive training plan that does not stop after deployment will benefit the agency and officers assigned to the BWCs


San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman talks about the results of the first year of body cameras being worn by approximately 800 police officers Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015, in San Diego.

AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

As body-worn cameras are becoming increasingly widespread, agencies are experiencing new challenges related to training, public transparency and policy.

To maintain the efficacy of a BWC program, it is important for chiefs to continually educate themselves about BWCs, continually train officers about the utility of the technology, review the challenges other agencies are facing and modify, if necessary, any policy as new issues, legislation or case law surfaces.

BWC training

Law enforcement agencies need to develop BWC training as a multi-phase process that covers the lifespan of the technology. If an agency is procuring BWCs and expects the technology to last five, 10, 15 years or indefinitely then officer training must mirror this intention.

Sharing continual information and education about BWCs with officers will improve the utility of the solution. There are several training approaches an agency can adopt to meet their unique needs. Here are three training phases every agency must have in place in order to get the most return on their BWC investment (from an efficacy perspective).

Phase 1: Pre-deployment training

Initial officer training is typically done by the BWC solution provider because they know the nuances of the solution, are able to answer questions about its capabilities and some combination of hands-on, classroom and online training is often part of the negotiated contract. Every officer who will be assigned a BWC must attend pre-deployment training. Training before live use is absolutely necessary, but it is only a start.

Phase 2: Week one BWC training

The second phase of the training should be within one week officers begin using BWCs in the field. This is an opportunity for law enforcement agencies to take a step back and see which officers understand how to operate the BWC and which officers are having challenges adjusting to the new technology.

Recently Dallas Police Department was under scrutiny because officers forgot to turn-on their BWCs during an encounter. This is a training matter that can be easily resolved, but in order to resolve it, leadership needs to be aware of the problem and adjustments need to be made. When any law enforcement agency deploys BWCs, they must conduct performance assessments immediately after deployment to resolve any training issues officers are facing in the field and then make the necessary adjustments with just-in-time training during roll call.

Phase 3: Ongoing BWC training

The final training phase is ongoing education for officers and administrators. This phase is an opportunity for the law enforcement agency to share new departmental policies about BWCs, digital evidence collection or preservation and any new case law that has surfaced since deployment that may impact how officers use BWCs. For example, the Bureau of Justice Assistance has a BWC toolkit that offers free resources. Police1 has a free BWC guide agencies can download.

Whether it’s the project manager initially assigned to the BWC implementation or someone who is overseeing the administration or maintenance of the program, this individual must be charged with staying on top of the issues coming out from the field to ensure the agency is effectively using BWCs. The leader of the BWC should be connected with the officers in the field to best understand ongoing challenges of the BWC solution. In addition the department’s BWC leader also needs to have access to the top department leaders to ensure concerns are addressed quickly and BWC training is appropriately prioritized.

Developing a comprehensive training plan that does not stop after deployment will benefit the agency and officers assigned to the BWCs. An agency’s BWC training plan is not static. When investing thousands or millions of dollars over time, it is necessary to provide officers with continuing education and training related to BWCs after implementation. The training plan should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis as issues are identified or legislation dictates change. Agencies must look at BWCs as a program, similar to CAD or RMS. Like other technologies, BWC programs require ongoing administration and training in order for it to be successful.

Heather R. Cotter has been working with public safety professionals for 20 years and understands the resource challenges and constraints agencies face. Heather is a Captain in the United States Army Reserve and holds two master’s degrees from Arizona State University and a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University. Contact her at