Resources about Stakeholders & Stakeholder Engagement

Body-Worn Camera Community Education and Creating Reasonable Expectations

On Tuesday, April 3, 2018 from 12:00 PM- 1:30 PM ET,  the BWC TTA Team hosted a webinar on body-worn camera community education and creating reasonable expectations. This webinar provided information about how and why it is important to educate the community on the limitations and benefits of Body-Worn Cameras (BWCs). It also discussed the many considerations that must be taken into account when releasing BWC footage, including privacy concerns, victims’ rights, and on-going investigation needs.

In View: BWC Community Education and Creating Reasonable Expectations

 

Introduction

As more and more police agencies across the country implement body-worn camera (BWC) programs, many feel that it is just a matter of time before this relatively new technology becomes an expected norm for the police. BWC programs have already demonstrated that implementation and outcome expectations are far more complicated and challenging than initially expected. It is difficult to identify another technology or tool that police have adopted which comes with such heightened public expectations and scrutiny. For example, compared to a department’s introduction of an electronic control device, a new caliber of firearm, or an improved records management system, the public clearly has more significant interest in and expectations of BWCs. However, most of the public and media likely lack a comprehensive understanding and appreciation about the limitations of BWCs. Some in the public who express distrust of the police may hope that BWCs will, “hold the police accountable like never before,” while at the same time there are many police officers who are eager to implement BWCs in hopes that they make clear the daily challenges, responsibilities, and decisions that officers face. Both perspectives are fair and may prove to be correct, and the police are in an excellent position to educate their communities about the complexities and realities of BWCs.

Lessons learned from the Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Policy and Implementation Program show that some police leaders, in hindsight, wish they had been more assertive in educating their communities and local media about the limitations of BWC footage, as well as the effects on their agencies’ resources from requests for footage. Some departments found that they could have easily curtailed an initial onslaught of media requests for all footage by describing their states’ Freedom of Information Act laws, their departments’ BWC procedures and policies, as well as their agency’s capacities and limitations in responding to requests. Departments around the country have created community and media forums to provide education on use of force, reasonable suspicion, probable cause, traffic stops, and other issues to provide a better understanding of officers’ actions, responsibilities, and decision making. BWCs should be no different. The challenge of police outreach is determining the best means to reach the target audience. Often, police forums and meetings have the same people in the audience over and over again. Police should identify mechanisms and strategies that can effectively reach communities and neighborhoods with people who do not typically attend or respond to police outreach. The following are some suggestions for how to conduct public outreach and education about BWCs.

Police agencies must be prepared to discuss the complexities of their BWC program, even prior to implementation.

“The challenge is that most aren’t adequately informed or prepared to discuss the complexities of a BWC program when they haven’t yet moved in to the technology.” Captain Dan Zehnder, Las Vegas Police, BWC subject matter expert

Considerations for Educating the Community and Media on BWCs

  • Establish a proactive approach to provide your community and media detailed information and expectations about your BWC program.
  • Determine the best approach to reach your intended audiences, including the following examples
    • Social media
    • Police newsletters
    • Press conferences and news releases
    • Radio spots
    • Community forums
    • Directed officer outreach
    • Command staff and officers attend community meetings
  • Develop a specific plan to demonstrate the BWC program’s capabilities and limitations. Some examples include the following:
    • Educate the public that BWC footage will not tell the entire story of every police call.
    • Point out that a citizen viewer of BWC footage may misunderstand the threat or risk of physical harm, and that human nature often results in unfair second guessing and questioning.
    • Point out officers’ training, experience, and knowledge are critical factors in how they approach their calls and that BWC footage does not provide this comprehensive background.
    • Provide examples where BWCs fail due to environmental factors.
      • The camera may not capture an incident due to reasonable situational factors such as limited lighting, becoming dislodged during a confrontation, or mechanical failure. Such a situational failure should not be equated with officer deception or misconduct.
      • Reasonable circumstances, such as an immediate emergency, can contribute to the officer being unable to activate the camera.
    • Clearly describe your policy and procedure for BWC footage requests.
      • Note that privacy considerations should be factored into all releases.
    • Educate the community on your resources and capacity limitations in responding to requests.
      • Mention storage limitations, redaction needs, and personnel limitations.
  • Recognize that watching any officer’s use of force is most likely going to prompt an emotional reaction by viewers—this does not mean the force was unreasonable. It is important to identify and highlight this reality when educating others on viewing footage.
  • Assign an agency go-to BWC subject matter expert (SME). Police have experts in tactics, evidence, investigations, and training; establishing an internal BWC expert can prove equally beneficial.
    • The SME should be available to respond to questions on videos that are released to the public.
  • Identify key stakeholders, such as prosecutors and community leaders, and enlist their support and assistance with community outreach and BWC messaging.
  • Conduct proactive outreach.
    • Develop talking points and answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs). Then incorporate that material into regular civic, community, and neighborhood watch meetings. Target the meetings that generally have large turnouts. By developing the material ahead of time, multiple commanders can handle the same topic with a consistent message at different meetings. 
    • Hold a Facebook town hall meeting so people can learn remotely.
    • The chief or sheriff should make direct outreach with any media in the jurisdiction. This sets a tone of openness and inclusiveness that will eventually make it into the news coverage of BWCs, and this openness will earn good will, which is invaluable during a crisis. The chief or sheriff must be prepared to answer all questions in a productive way and set a collaborative tone.
      • Establish social media forums where citizens can participate in question-and-answer sessions on BWCs.

Police communications expert and former public information officer Laura McElroy recommends identifying and targeting outreach to your most challenging audiences: “Either invite your loudest critics to the department for a discussion or go to them and meet on their turf. This is an important step for showing critics that the agency values their input and wants to work out solutions as a team.”

  • Push out BWC footage that you want the public to see, including the following situations:
    • Officer engagement with community
    • Officer decision-making
    • Officer demonstrating use of force de-escalation
    • Officer solving a crime or arresting dangerous suspects
  • Recognize that BWC outreach needs to be a continuous, ongoing effort.

Conclusion

There are many benefits to being proactive in educating the community and the media about reasonable expectations of BWCs. One of the biggest potential benefits may come when an agency has a significant incident, such as an officer-involved shooting, and its earlier outreach has helped to establish reasonable expectations. This communication can avoid a great deal of confusion, criticism, and stress for both the organization and the community. This article focused on community and media education, but these suggestions also apply to outreach to local government officials.

Resources

Video – Body Worn Cameras Explained

Video – University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee Police

Video - Cleveland Police Seek Public Opinion on Body Worn Cameras

Video - Body Camera Video Shows Sacramento PD De-Escalate Man with Mental Illness

 

In View: Key Trends in Body-Worn Camera Policies

The CNA Corporation, Arizona State University (ASU), and Justice and Security Strategies (JSS) provide training and technical assistance (TTA) to law enforcement agencies that have received funding for body-worn cameras (BWCs) through the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) BWC Policy and Implementation Program (PIP). Administrative policy review is a central feature of TTA. The TTA team developed a BWC policy review process to assess the comprehensiveness of BWC policies through a BWC Policy Review Scorecard
 
Because the policy review process assesses comprehensiveness only and is not prescriptive, agencies vary in the way they deal with specific key issues. We recently completed an analysis of the BWC policies for 129 police agencies (covering 54 agencies funded in FY 2015 and 75 in FY 2016). Our analysis examined variation across five dynamic areas: activation, deactivation, citizen notification, officer authority to review, and supervisor authority to review. We examined two additional issues for FY 2016 sites only: camera wearing during off-duty assignments and activation during public demonstrations. The full report can be found online here.  
 
We identified 17 key BWC policy trends across these 7  policy considerations. They are listed below.
 
 Activation
(1) All agencies mandate and prohibit activation for certain types of encounters. No agency allows full officer discretion on BWC activation.
(2) Most agencies (60 percent) allow for discretionary activation under certain circumstances.
 
Deactivation
(3) All agencies provide guidance for BWC deactivation. However, officer discretion is more common for deactivation than activation.
(4) Officer discretion in the deactivation decision is more common in the policies of FY 2016 agencies. 
 
Citizen notification
(5) Less than 20 percent of agencies mandate citizen notification of the BWC. 
(6) About 40 percent of agencies recommend, but do not require, citizen notification of the BWC. 
(7) Mandatory notification is less common in the policies of FY 2016 agencies. 
 
Officer authority to review
(8) Nearly all agencies allow officers to review BWC footage for routine report writing.
(9) Less than 30 percent of agencies allow officers unrestricted access to BWC footage during an administrative investigation.
(10) After a critical incident, more than 90 percent of agencies allow officers to review their BWC footage prior to giving a statement. 
 
Supervisor authority to review
(11) Nearly all agencies permit supervisors to review BWC footage for administrative purposes, such as investigation of citizen complaints and use of force. 
(12) Most agencies give supervisors authority to review line officers’ BWC footage to determine compliance with BWC policy and procedures. Nearly all FY 2016 agencies (93 percent) allow for BWC policy compliance checks by supervisors.
(13) Most agencies give supervisors authority to review line officers’ BWC footage for general performance evaluation. Nearly all FY 2016 agencies (93 percent) allow supervisors to access BWC footage to assess officer performance. 
 
Off-duty assignment (FY 2016 only)
(14) The majority of FY 2016 agencies (69 percent) do not address BWC use during off-duty assignments.
(15) Twenty-eight percent of FY 2016 agencies mandate BWC use among officers on off-duty assignments.
 
Activation during demonstrations (FY 2016 only)
(16) The majority of FY 2016 agencies (71 percent) do not address BWC use during public demonstrations.
(17) Just under 20 percent of FY 2016 agencies require activation and recording during public demonstrations.
 
Though our sample may not be representative of police agencies nationally, the report provides insights into trends in key policy areas, as well as some benchmarks for agencies involved in BWC policy development and assessment. This analysis reinforces the idea that BWC policy should be responsive to local circumstances, as well as the needs of local stakeholders. Moreover, BWC policies should continue to evolve as evidence from research emerges, as states weigh in with policy requirements, and as BWC technology changes.