Police Body-Worn Cameras: What Prosecutors Need to Know
Prosecutors’ Center for Excellence (2018)
As police departments across the United States embrace the use of police body-worn cameras (“BWCs”), it is imperative that prosecutors be involved in the uptake process as early as possible. The cameras will inevitably capture a great deal of evidentiary material that will be used in every type of criminal prosecution. Thus, systems and policies must be developed to ensure that this evidence is properly captured and delivered to the prosecutor in a timely and usable way. This can be a daunting task, complicated by the fact that in most jurisdictions, there are many police departments that send their cases to one prosecutor. Without coordination, the departments may purchase different technologies, implement different policies, and store the data in different locations. In some instances, the prosecutor may even be unaware that a police department has purchased BWCs. To start, the prosecutor should reach out to their police department(s) to determine whether they are planning to purchase BWCs. If the police department already has a program underway, it will be advantageous for the prosecutor to become involved in developing the program and in coordinating with other police departments in their jurisdiction.
This paper is a guide to assist prosecutors in navigating the many complex issues surrounding a BWC program. It is divided into two parts: (i) BWC Technology and (ii) Prosecutor-Specific Considerations. Part One, BWC Technology, provides an overview of BWC technology and the systems in use by various police departments. This section discusses the technical specifications of BWC devices and supporting software and storage systems, and issues that this technology poses for prosecutors and law enforcement. Part Two, Prosecutor-Specific Considerations, discusses prosecutorial issues related to BWCs, such as developing office policies, access to recordings, discovery considerations, and the use of BWC recordings as evidence in the grand jury and at trial. A checklist for prosecutors is included in the Appendix.
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