Body-Worn Camera Compliance - Challenges and Best Practices

Thomas Woodmansee, Senior Advisor at CNA, BWC subject expert and former police officer, with contributions from BWC experts Orlando Cuevas and Charles Stephenson

 

When police officers hear or read the word, “compliance” as it relates to policy, what often comes to mind is, “what do I have to do to avoid getting into trouble?” For various reasons, compliance appears to be somewhat more challenging for police agencies when it comes to their body-worn camera (BWC) programs. We are all learning that introducing BWCs entails much more than just providing officers a new technology. Numerous challenges and dynamics present themselves when agencies implement their BWCs, including costs, storage, community expectations, officer concerns, coordinating with prosecutors, and ensuring organizational compliance to policy, to name a few.

The policing profession receives a great deal of public scrutiny and input from various sources regarding expectations for behavior and conduct. Despite some public and media narratives, in my experience, police officers overwhelmingly want to “get it right” when it comes to appropriate conduct. The reality is that there are few, if any, other professions that provide such detailed, prescribed, and mandated rules and regulations (policy) for how their employees must behave while also outlining the consequences for failing to behave appropriately. Despite some perceptions, the law enforcement profession has a tremendous amount of checks and balances in place for accountability. More and more agencies recognize that BWCs provide a platform for demonstrating this responsibility. We are finding that while officers were once skeptical or resistant to wearing BWCs, those same officers now insist on having them as part of their everyday toolkit. An FY 2015 Bureau of Justice Assistance  BWC Policy and Implementation Project (PIP) site notes that it has seen significant changes, with officers embracing—and now even demanding—BWCs, leading to improvements with organizational compliance. The site even goes as far as having its dispatchers verbally remind the officers to activate their BWCs when they arrive on scene to a call to help ensure higher rates of compliance.

 Compliance with policy is needed for several reasons, including the following:

  1. Provide a clear understanding of the organization’s expectations for the officers behavior
  2. Demonstrate to the community that police are accountable, and have specific rules and guidelines that they must follow in order not to abuse the powers that they possess
  3. Help officers navigate all the tasks, responsibilities, and complexities they face with the support of their department

Throughout the first three years of the BWC PIP grant program, agencies continued to identify the topic of compliance as complex and challenging for their BWC programs. 

SOUND AND PROMISING PRACTICES

As with most policy adherence challenges, BWC compliance can be broken down into several identifiable and influencing factors, including, but not limited to:

  1. Identifying the Issue
  2. Policy 
  3. Training 
  4. Supervision 
  5. Auditing 

Identifying the Issue – As simple as it sounds, it is imperative to determine why officers and staff are not complying with BWC policy before action can be taken to address the issue. Identifying the root causes of and contributors to noncompliance may take some effort and strategy. For example, what are the specific reasons that officers have difficulty complying with (or are unwilling to comply with) such BWC policy components as activation, notification, equipment familiarity, categorization, or storage? The issue may have to do with training, with the way the policy is written, or with equipment problems; it may be self-evident or it may take some digging and outreach to officers.

Policy  – Feedback from numerous sites indicates that the clarity of an agency’s policy may be the most significant contributor to noncompliance. Do not underestimate the importance of establishing a comprehensive policy that is clear, concise, detailed, and very specific to your agency’s capacities. Obtain input and feedback from the ranks on their ability to comprehend and capability to follow the policy requirements. Understand and embrace that a sound policy is fluid and should be receptive to revisions and updates. Also consider that a policy which allows for a great deal of officer discretion will likely result in variations in officer compliance. Finally, consider that BWC policy should be periodically reviewed and updated as necessary, as the technology, related state regulations, and case law are subject to change.

Training  – Inadequate training has been identified as a significant contributor for some agencies who experience BWC compliance issues. Good training practices start off by demonstrating, emphasizing, and reinforcing the importance of BWC policy adherence for both the organization and the individual officer directly from the highest levels of the organization.  Educating your organization that BWCs are more than just “another technology” can be challenging, but we have seen numerous recent national examples where officers and departments were scrutinized, criticized, and disciplined for compliance failure issues related to BWC activation. Training on BWC policy requirements should begin with organizational implementation, include pre-service training, and be reinforced by in-service trainings with periodic and consistent updates. Recognize the value of scenario-based training with BWC activation and build it into pre-service and in-service tactical trainings. This will reinforce muscle memory and BWC activation while under stress. Agencies should also consider the effect of actual BWC video footage as a training aid. Observing colleagues exhibiting positive behavior can have a significant effect on less-experienced officers who may lack confidence but are unwilling to ask for help. 

Supervision  – Chiefs and supervisors should determine whether the officers understand the benefits of having BWCs, decide if noncompliance is related to fear and mistrust of them, and address that mistrust directly by communicating with the officers. Supervisors should also consider the fact that officers may lack confidence to record their actions; this may be connected to a lack of job knowledge. 

[1] A BWC training guide developed by Arizona State University can be found at: http://www.bwctta.com/resources/bwc-resources/body-worn-camera-training

Below are some important considerations for supervisors:

  • Identify the root cause issue 
    • Process and procedure issue
    • Technology issues 
    • Officer attitude issue
    • Job knowledge 
  • Supervisors should receive the same training as the officers. 
  • If there is a large scale issue, the agency must examine the training and consider an improved and more comprehensive update. Training must be broader than just the mechanical functions of the BWC.
  • If there is a large scale issue, the agency must examine the training and consider an improved and more comprehensive update. Training must be broader than just the mechanical functions of the BWC.
  • Authority to review (examples provided below).

Auditing  Supervisory authority to review BWC footage is critical, though departments vary significantly in scope and nature of that authority. The following are some specific policy examples illustrating the role of supervisory auditing.

Administrative Review

Example: A supervisor may review specific BWC media or data for the purpose of training, civil claims, and administrative inquiry.

Compliance Review 

Example: Monthly, supervisors will randomly review 10 recordings to ensure that the equipment is operating properly and that officers are using the cameras appropriately and in accordance with policy and training.

Performance Review 

Example: Supervisors will conduct random weekly reviews of selected recordings in order to assess deputy performance as well as to identify videos that may be appropriate for training.

Command Review 

Example: Commanders will randomly conduct quarterly reviews of reports and video which has been previously reviewed as a result of administrative, compliance and performance reviews.

Technological Considerations:

A host of technological issues can shape a department’s approach to BWC compliance. It is useful to take a proactive approach to policy compliance, taking steps before an external factor indicates noncompliance. Several vendors have developed tools that can aid in the early identification of noncompliance. However, such tools should be part of a larger, comprehensive monitoring program that includes everyone in the chain of command, down to first-line supervisors.

When it comes to categorization “tagging,” it is important that departments consider the methods used and understand any vendor limitations. User training, computer-aided dispatching, records management systems, and BWC software integration can affect accuracy. As with any new technology, results should improve over time as users gain experience and policy and procedures are refined. Annual or semiannual review of project results, status, and adjustments are critical to ensure the project evolves to meet agency needs.

Here are a few annual review considerations for agencies with policy compliance issues

  • Is there a technology fix?
  • Do you have the right people assigned?
  • Can you civilianize any processes for efficiency, stability, and consistency?
  • Does your policy need to be amended?
  • Any other agency specific issues that are contributing factors?

Conclusion

BWC compliance works if the following conditions are met:

  • Policy is CLEAR if it articulates what is and what is not expected.
  • Policy is KNOWN if members of the organization are properly trained and can describe what they need to do to adhere to the policy.
  • Policy is ENFORCED if compliance is monitored and supervisors and officers are held accountable at the same standard throughout the organization.

Additional resources related to BWC policy analysis can be found below:

  • Hedberg et al. (2016)
    • “If BWCs are employed as prescribed [i.e. 100 percent activation compliance] a majority of complaints against officers would be eliminated”
  • Ariel et al. (2016)
    • Officers followed policy (activation and citizen advisement)
      • Use of force declined by 37 percent
    • Officers did not follow policy
      • Use of force increased by 71 percent

The Critical Importance of BWC Policy Development and Review Webinar: http://www.bwctta.com/tta/webinars/critical-importance-body-worn-camera-policy-development-and-review

Key Trends in BWC Policy and Practice Report: http://bwctta.com/sites/default/files/Files/Resources/Policy%20Analysis%20Year%202%20FINAL.pdf

Tom Woodmansee is a Senior Advisor at CNA, working on BWC TTA. Prior to joining CNA, he worked for the Madison, Wisconsin Police Department for 25 years. Mr. Woodmansee's has worked as a Patrol Officer, Undercover Narcotics Officer, and 13-years as a Detective. He also served on the SWAT team as a tactical operator, later as a Negotiator and then a Commander overseeing the Police Academy and several specialized investigative units. Mr. Woodmansee has worked with many agencies around the country on a variety of projects and systems improvements through the BJA Smart Policing Initiative and BJA National Public Safety Partnership.

 

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