6 lessons learned from 10 years of body-worn camera deployment
Agencies must create programs that are intentional and transparent
This article appeared in Police1’s 2022 guide to body-worn cameras. Click here to download the guide.
By Sergeant Bob Younger & Lieutenant David Pearson (ret.)
A strong body-worn camera program promotes community trust and credibility, improves police accountability, and offers training opportunities for new and seasoned officers.
The Fort Collins Police Services (FCPS) was an early adopter of body-worn cameras in late 2009. As the use and deployment of BWCs have become more common, many states are moving toward mandated use, as Colorado did recently. To help agencies launch a new body-worn camera program or continue to develop an existing program, here are six lessons we identified during the 10+ years of our body-worn camera program.
1. Ensure your equipment meets your mission
There are a lot of different bodycam companies and many new ones every day that want to provide you BWC solutions. Decide what your mission is first before engaging with a vendor. Here are some questions to consider:
- Are you required by law to provide BWCs to every officer?
- When will they be required to deploy them and how?
- Where will the video be stored?
- Who has access to the video?
- What happens if video is not captured?
- What information must be reported?
Once you have answered these questions, you will be able to better vet a vendor. We experienced several vendors who claimed to be able to do something only to visit some of their customers who did not experience the promise. Big hint: Do site visits.
2. Be aware that your program will cost more than you expect
Many program quotes reference only the hardware, software and cloud services. Additional considerations could include:
- Will you have to modify your uniforms to accommodate the cameras?
- Will officers be required to charge the cameras at home?
- What happens when equipment is lost, stolen, or broken?
- Will you need special mounts or equipment for off-site units?
Your camera supplier can offer support for some of these situations but know that planning for an extra 10%-20% cost per year is not unheard of.
3. Gain buy-in from more than just your executive staff
Officers exposed to new BWC programs are often concerned about the implications and policies related to the deployment. Make sure that, if applicable, your union or local FOP is involved in the drafting and review of policy. Spend time before program rollout to explain to officers/deputies the purpose and intent of the program.
Also, know that the impact will be widespread. Local community groups, business associations and large retail box stores all need to be involved in education and information sharing early on so there are no surprises.
4. Consider your officers’ workflow
Workflow tends to be the biggest aggravator for line officers, so really put some thought into your workflow. The less work the officer must do in the field or on a computer the better. But don’t give up the necessary administrative responsibilities.
Our workflow has changed many times over the years, from how we title videos and classify them, to how they are reported. Take a close look at automation and application programming interfaces (APIs) offered by vendors as the extra cost for these applications might provide overall savings if it makes the officers' jobs easier and faster. They will also help reduce human error tenfold.
5. Be aware it will take more staff than you thought
The act of capturing, categorizing and storing a video is only part of the story. The video alone will not be what every downstream stakeholder needs or wants. They will need reports, documentation, videos released to defense and prosecutors, and general releases that may be required by state or local law. All of this takes time and consequently staff.
FCPS added about 2.5 to 3 FTEs to manage the redaction, copying, report review and administration of bodycam video. Working with local prosecutors on release and policy or procedural changes will also take some time and interactions with the prosecutorial teams. This all takes time and staffing. And, most importantly, it will take more of your officer’s time.
We joke about “one more thing” or “five more minutes” but it adds up – quickly. Don’t underestimate the time it will take officers to report, categorize and organize their reports as this will impact street strength.
6. Be willing to change when needed
Be ready to pivot and make your internal policies and procedures flexible. One thing FCPS learned over the years is that you will often not know what needs to change until you know what needs changing. Flexibility is key, particularly with policy and process,
Be ready to answer the hard questions from your officers and your stakeholders and don’t be afraid to make changes and communicate those early and often.
About the authors
Sergeant Bob Younger is a 21-year veteran of the Fort Collins Police Services in northern Colorado. He acts as the Technology Sergeant for FCPS and consults with other law enforcement agencies about technology and body-worn cameras.
David Pearson recently retired as a lieutenant with the Fort Collins Police Services. He has been a law enforcement instructor since 1996 and has taught a variety of topics including officer safety, SWAT tactics, active shooter and incident command.
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