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Maximizing the benefits of police body-worn cameras: Tips and tricks for law enforcement

To fully harness the potential of bodycam technology, it’s crucial to understand the use cases and capabilities of BWCs

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There are dozens of body-worn cameras to choose from. Start with a list of what’s important to your agency.

By Ron LaPedis

Enhancing the effectiveness of body-worn cameras is crucial for both officers and the communities they serve. Body cams provide an unbiased account of events, promote transparency, and foster trust between officers and the communities they serve.

However, just like you can’t slap a red dot sight on a pistol and call it a day officers and supervisory personnel must be trained in the proper placement and use of BWCs. That is, to fully harness their potential, it’s crucial to understand their proper use and capabilities. In this article, we provide practical tips and tricks to optimize the use of body cameras, ensuring they deliver the desired outcomes.

Choosing a BWC

There are dozens of body-worn cameras to choose from. Start with a list of what’s important to your agency. Interview other agencies to get pros and cons:

  • Are cameras pre-assigned to an officer or is there a start of shift login process?
  • Does the BWC have to be manually connected, or does it dock to a base on your uniform?
  • How easy is it to disconnect and charge at the end of shift? Does it offer drop-in charging?
  • Is there a blinking LED to let citizens know they are being recorded to help with de-escalation?
  • Does the software automatically download and assign video to the right officer?
  • Does it have infrared? It could go against you in court if the camera can see more than the officer. Perhaps white LED illumination is a better choice.
  • Can you drop-kick it against the wall? BWCs need to be tough enough to survive an altercation.
  • What else is important to your agency?

Proper placement and maintenance

Experiment with different mounting options to ensure the camera captures a comprehensive view of events. At start of shift, ensure the battery is charged, the start/stop switch works, the lens is clean, and any auto-on features (like drawing your weapon) are functional. Your BWC administrator needs to check for software updates and perform scheduled maintenance to keep the device in top condition.

Training and familiarization

BWCs are not a “mount and go” device. Agencies need to decide who will be charged with training officers in their proper use. Perhaps add this function to range or technology training programs. Encourage officers to familiarize themselves with the camera controls and features.

If the BWC doesn’t have auto-on capabilities, emphasize the importance of turning on the camera to start recording at the beginning of every encounter.

Do you want to impose penalties if an officer consistently forgets to turn on their BWC? What does your policy say? You will need a BWC policy that spells out every aspect of your program.

Integration with other technologies

Many manufacturers offer BWCs that integrate with in-car video and computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems. This integration gives you a single source of truth by linking them with timestamps, GPS tagging and other metadata features, which will help you streamline the organization and retrieval of recorded footage later.

Privacy considerations

While that 24x7 witness is valuable, officers need to consider situations where privacy concerns may outweigh the need for recording, such as inside private homes or in sensitive situations. Privacy also means that your BWC policy needs to include procedures for handling and storing footage, proving chain of custody, along with guidelines for public access and redaction when necessary.

Encouraging officer accountability and compliance

Your policy needs to include clear protocols for when and how to use body cameras. Consider the use of technology to automatically activate BWC in certain situations, such as when an officer exits their vehicle or draws their weapon. A review process to ensure officers are adhering to body camera policies and procedures also needs to be part of your policy.

Analyzing and learning from footage

Use body camera footage as a training tool to review critical incidents, identify areas for improvement and reinforce positive behaviors. Encourage open dialogue and constructive feedback during video review sessions. Collaborate with other law enforcement agencies to share best practices and lessons learned from body camera use.

BWC footage also might be valuable for your training staff to use for building de-escalation scenarios into your firearms simulator. Program branches can be created based on encounters that went well and ones that went off the rails. If actual incidents are used as a script, your training will be realistic.

Conclusion

Proper training, maintenance and integration with other technologies not only will improve the overall effectiveness but also contribute to a safer and more transparent policing environment. By following these tips and tricks, law enforcement agencies can maximize the benefits of BWCs.


About the author

Ron LaPedis is an NRA-certified Chief Range Safety Officer, NRA, USCCA and California DOJ-certified instructor, is a uniformed first responder, and frequently writes and speaks on law enforcement, business continuity, cybersecurity, physical security and public/private partnerships.