Laws governing how and when police body-worn cameras can be used and whether the footage is released vary considerably across the country. The BWC legislation tracker can be used to find out about passed and pending laws in your state. The tracker will be updated periodically as state laws change.
To view the BWC legislation tracker, click here.
Body-worn cameras are recording devices police officers wear as part of their uniforms to document what they see as they perform their duties. Body cameras continue to be a significant focus for state law makers as they consider and enact legislation to address police-community relations. To date, thirty-four states and the District of Columbia have created laws for body cameras. The body-worn camera laws database provides a list of all thirty-four states along with their specific BWC laws.
Many community stakeholders and criminal justice leaders have suggested placing body-worn cameras (BWCs) on police officers improves the civility of police-citizen encounters and enhances citizen perceptions of police transparency and legitimacy. In response, many police departments have adopted this technology to improve the quality of policing in their communities. However, the existing evaluation evidence on the intended and unintended consequences of outfitting police officers with BWCs is still developing.
In the era of Law & Order, NCIS, Criminal Minds, and other television crime dramas, the public now expects clear and compelling recordings that document the commission of an alleged crime. At a minimum, they expect to see recordings of the arrival of the police on the scene and footage of the person charged with committing the crime. Body-worn camera (BWC) recordings dwell at the intersection of television drama and real life. But despite the popular imagination, BWC footage is not always the end-all and be-all of a case.
Upon learning that a local law enforcement agency was preparing to deploy body-worn cameras (BWCs), we as prosecutors had to wonder what this new evidence would mean to our presentation of cases in court. Would it mean more or less work? More or fewer trials? Better trial outcomes?
We are learning that the implementation of body worn camera (BWC) technology involves more than just the introduction of new technology into law enforcement. The implementation of body-worn cameras is complex and should involve other justice stakeholders such as prosecutors and defense attorneys. Some of the more important issues for police agencies as the implement their BWC programs are the sharing and transferring of video footage while maintaining a chain of custody, accurate resource planning, and understanding how to best use BWC footage for screening cases and/or charges.
A Police Perspective