Abstract: High-profile critical incidents and crises threatening the integrity, reputation, and standing of a law enforcement agency typically generate intense public scrutiny of a department. How department leaders respond to the community during these difficult times can affect public trust and, ultimately, support for the agency. This makes crisis communication an integral part of its operations; however, this aspect is often overlooked.
As a part of the Body-Worn Camera (BWC) Training and Technical Assistance (TTA) Program, funded sites can request an on-site TTA meeting. During these meetings, sites receive assistance and presentations from CNA’s cadre of subject experts on topics relevant to their departments. These topics range from community and media engagement, data management, and public release issues to prosecutor engagement, training, and officer buy-in. The subject experts in attendance facilitate the presentations and encourage discussion among the audience.
The Regional Justice Information Service (REJIS) received a FY 2017 Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Body-Worn Camera (BWC) Policy and Implementation Program (PIP) grant on behalf of eight law enforcement agencies in the St. Louis metropolitan area. REJIS is an Information Technology (IT) firm that serves government agencies, with a heavy focus on police departments. REJIS primarily serves police departments, courts, and jails in the St. Louis area; it also works with agencies spanning Missouri and Illinois. The eight agencies involved in the PIP grant were all prior REJIS customers in the St. Louis area; the departments range in size from 16 to 49 officers. The group includes municipal police departments and one university police department: Bellefontaine Neighbors Police Department, Brentwood Police Department, Bridgeton Police Department, Clayton Police Department, Moline Acres Police Department, Richmond Heights Police Department, Town and County Police Department, and the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) Police Department. Bellefontaine Neighbors Police Department, led by Chief Ihler, is partnering with REJIS to take a lead role in this effort.
To build the regional group, REJIS surveyed law enforcement agencies that were already a part of the REJIS network about their interest in participating in a regional BWC program. REJIS representatives also spoke with city administration officials, chief executives, participating agency chiefs, and county prosecutors to ensure they had a firm understanding of the timeline and the expectations of BWC group participants. REJIS created a memorandum of understanding with prosecutors to facilitate a smooth working relationship. REJIS analyst Joseph Durso and Bellefonte Neighbors Police Department Chief Jeremy Ihler both stress the importance of ensuring stakeholders clearly understand BWC expectations and how the program works.
After identifying participating agencies, REJIS focused on identifying champions in each department and maintaining communication. Representatives host monthly in-person meetings with all of the participating police departments. These meetings help keep information fresh and people engaged. REJIS scheduled its monthly meetings to coincide with the existing St. Louis Area Police Chiefs Association (SLAPCA) meetings, resulting in nearly perfect attendance. In addition to communicating with each other, participating agencies needed to engage with their community members. REJIS analyst Joe Durso noted that it is difficult to ensure that participating departments are communicating sufficiently with the community and that it was important for REJIS to encourage communication strategies and offer support and guidance. One effective strategy was taking advantage of existing communication pathways. For example, student government groups already exist at UMSL; University Police representatives went to those groups to present on BWCs and request community (student) input. They also encouraged the student government group to disseminate information about the department’s BWC implementation throughout campus. Other agencies took the same approach with existing public relations committees and law enforcement technology committees. REJIS also partnered with the St. Louis Dispatch newspaper. A reporter wrote an article covering the BWC procurement and deployment process and plans to write additional articles about the effort as REJIS progresses.
Bellefontaine Neighbors Police Department Chief Ihler developed a template policy using a variety of sources, including the BWC Training and Technical Assistance (TTA) Scorecard guidelines, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) model policy, and other Missouri law enforcement BWC policies. Chief Ihler noted that the BWC PIP Scorecard process is similar to an accreditation process and suggested that agencies have an accreditation or certification manager involved in policy development. Once the template policy was developed, other participating agencies had the option of using and modifying the policy or developing their own. To ensure coordination and consistency, REJIS staff participated in all policy review phone calls with each agency’s BWC TTA team. This policy development process allows for flexibility between agencies with differing needs while also encouraging consistency, which mitigates liability concerns.
Procurement and Storage
REJIS was less flexible when it came to storage and purchasing. REJIS opted for one vendor, shared onsite storage for all agencies at a centralized data center, and used an existing network to connect each department. Participating in the regional BWC implementation process meant maintaining consistent back-end support. REJIS wanted all agencies to share the same software to avoid redundant or unforeseen technical support costs down the road. Additionally, a shared RFP puts the group in a good negotiating position and allows for economies of scale with purchase. While there are financial benefits to choosing one vendor and storage solution, it requires all participating agencies to agree on one vendor. To relieve tensions around the choice of any particular vendor, REJIS focused on garnering buy-in and being very transparent about the process from the start. REJIS involved the departments in the vendor selection process from the beginning and sought input at every turn. This collaboration was more work at the outset but it guaranteed all agencies would accept the eventual shared vendor choice. REJIS was also clear and upfront about what it could not guarantee. For example, many participating agencies wanted BWCs that would fully integrate with in-car cameras, but there is no single solution that can integrate with all of the agencies’ in-car cameras. REJIS was very clear that the chosen vendor might integrate with an agency’s in-car cameras, but that there are no guarantees.
For the procurement process, REJIS used a modified version of the TTA Request for Proposal (RFP) template provided by the BWC TTA website. REJIS solicited feedback on the RFP from all participating agencies before releasing it. The regional group is currently reviewing proposals and deciding on potential vendors for a field test. Once agencies start testing devices, they will make sure all officers are trained on how to use them. This requirement applies to the officers wearing cameras as well as management staff.
A regional approach to BWC procurement and implementation can mean more work in the early stages of implementation, but it also provides a host of benefits. In terms of procurement, a group of agencies is in a better position to negotiate with vendors than a single agency. Working as a group also helps facilitate regional consistency, a definite plus for prosecutors. Inconsistencies in how agencies use BWCs and release of BWC footage can create problems for prosecution and public perception. In the court system, these discrepancies can be used to argue that BWC use in one agency is inequitable in comparison to another, hence evidence of systemic inequality. The same concept applies to the media and public perception. Regional consistency can safeguard against these liabilities. One of the biggest benefits of a regional approach to BWC procurement and implementation is information sharing. The REJIS group included some agencies that were already looking into BWCs. Agencies that were new to the process benefited from their peers’ experiences. All of the agencies benefit from peer learning and the subject expertise within each agency. For any questions or to be put in contact with REJIS, please reach out to BWCTTA@cna.org.
This webinar served as an orientation to the FY18 Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Body-Worn Camera Policy and Implementation Program. The intent of this grant program is to help agencies develop, implement, and manage a BWC program as one tool in a law enforcement agency’s comprehensive problem-solving approach to enhance officer interactions with the public, combat crime, and build community trust.
Police officers tend to have a love/hate relationship with training. Announce that there will be an Active Shooter Scenario-Based Tactical Training, and some will be giddy while others will dread it. The same goes for pursuit training, firearms training, emergency vehicle operations, investigations, and other training opportunities. One consistent response that I have seen in my policing career is that officers will demonstrate universal contempt for anything related to “policy updates” or “new technology” trainings. Many agencies who have been involved with the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s (BJA’s) Body-Worn Camera Policy and Implementation Program (BWC PIP) will routinely note that when they began their process, they did not completely appreciate or understand the complexities and dynamics of BWCs or the need to establish a customized training approach. BWCs are far more than just a new piece of equipment, and the steps of BWC implementation (including the initial decision to explore BWCs, policy development, community outreach, procurement, and implementation) can prove quite challenging to your agency.
BWCs receive a great deal of attention and expectation within our current national climate. New radios or other police equipment typically have impacts on internal factors such as officer safety, improved tactics, and information sharing; however, BWCs have much broader implications related to:
- Officer Safety
- Public Trust and Expectations
- Department Transparency
- Officer and Public Accountability
- Information Technology
- Public Education
- Internal Education
- Complaints and Discipline
- Use of Force
- Public Relations
Introducing a BWC program to your organization and community is complex, which is why it is important to establish comprehensive, effective, and customized training for your agency, your officers, your criminal justice partners, the media, and the public. Every police agency has challenges and limited resources that are unique to their communities and organizations. Police departments design and develop customized trainings and procedures for their officers covering a wide range of topics, including violent crime strategies, community policing, evidence collection, use of force decision-making, investigations, etc. It is equally important for agencies to design and develop their own BWC curricula based on their needs and capacities.
There are more than 50 BWC vendors, and many provide agencies with training upon the purchase of their BWC product. Vendor training is a good starting point, but it is only a start. Training by vendors is usually limited to operation of the equipment including review of technical capacities, how to turn device on and off, and how to dock and upload data. Vendors generally provide one size-fits-all training specific to their product, they do not individualize training to address agency BWC policy or compliance processes. Vendors also will not address how an agency’s BWC policy and practice will affect most of the factors mentioned in the bullet points above (e.g., use of force or public trust).
For these reasons, agencies should supplement the vendor training with their own BWC training. Some agencies elect to do online training, others choose incorporate on-site training, and some do both. Medium and large agencies often have the luxury to assign their training team to develop and conduct BWC training. Smaller agencies may not have the capacity to do this and often simply rely on the training provided by vendors. While recognizing the value of vendor training, this article highlights the benefits of police departments supplementing it with a customized BWC training built around their individual policies, needs, and capacities.
The benefits of scenario-based training are widely recognized in policing. Classroom training is important, but actual hands-on situational training resonates with officers, especially for situations in which they must multitask under stress. Some agencies have customized their trainings to incorporate BWC activation and notification into other scenario-based trainings, such as tactics and professional communications. Some agencies have built BWCs into all of their Fire Arms Training Simulator (FATS) trainings. Officers know that repetition builds muscle memory and consistency. Captain Craig Burgess, from the BWC PIP site in Aiken, South Carolina, notes that their officers are trained and directed to activate their BWC upon receiving the call for service, which has become routine for them. This approach gives the officers one less thing to do when rolling up on a scene.
Training should also emphasize key elements of the agency’s BWC policy. When should officers activate the BWC? Under what conditions are they permitted to deactivate? How should an officer handle citizen requests for deactivation? Are officers required to notify the citizen of the recording? Scenario-based training can be an effective method for conveying key aspects of BWC policy and having officers develop habit under realistic training scenarios.
The BWC PIP program has enabled many agencies to network with and learn best practices from multiple departments. Below are some takeaways on the benefits of having your own BWC training approach for your agency.
Potential Benefits in Establishing Your Own BWC Training
- Ability to identify and design the training objectives that are specific to your agency
- Explain the department’s goals for the BWC program
- Tailor training from pre-service to in-service
- Increase policy adherence and accountability
- Incorporate unique considerations for specialized units (SWAT, school officers, etc.)
- Integrate prosecutors into the training
- Promote awareness among your officers of your community’s expectations and concerns regarding BWCs
- Create training feedback loops
- Obtain direct, candid, and on-going feedback from your officers and prosecutors
- Adjust the training when needed
- Utilize your own footage for future training examples
- Obtain direct, candid, and on-going feedback from your officers and prosecutors
- Establish department “subject experts” to conduct the BWC trainings
- Create an embedded resource for the department
- Participate in “Train the Trainer” opportunities, especially for Regional Approaches with BWCs
- Develop a mechanism for remedial training if needed
- Assign the training experts to be “BWC Public Information Officers” for external inquires or education and for courtroom testimony
- Increase awareness of your department’s technical capabilities and limitations
- Integrate BWC training with other trainings, such as scenario-based tactical trainings
- Reinforce BWC activation through muscle memory under stressful conditions
- Train officers to use BWCs as a tool to tell the story on calls when appropriate
- Plan for adaptability and sustainability
- Update your training when BWC technology changes
- Utilize your established training curriculum for new officers or lateral hires transitioning
The Hogansville, GA, Police Department first implemented body-worn cameras in the middle of 2008 when former Chief of Police Moses Ector purchased two body cameras for a trail run at an International Chiefs of Police Conference. When we first deployed the cameras, there were two that were shared by the shifts. The cameras were not able to keep up with the charging requirements to remain functional so they were briefly decommissioned and spent a few months shelved. Chief Ector reissued one camera to me full time as a test subject to gauge the effectiveness of the BWC.
This webinar examined several issues related to regional approaches to BWC program design and implementation, including the benefits from a regional approach, compromises that will likely need to be made, and planning considerations. The webinar featured a brief presentation on general issues regarding regional models in law enforcement, presentations from several BWC PIP sites that have successfully implemented regional BWC programs, and provided an overview of the key considerations that agencies should attend to during the planning phase of a regional BWC implementation.
This webinar focused on the use of BWCs beyond the police patrol function. In addition to police patrol functions, BWCs are being implemented in a variety of contexts including in courtrooms, city services agencies, schools, and university settings. During this webinar, BWC TTA Partner, Arizona State University (ASU), reviewed the findings from their report on the use of body-worn cameras in environments outside of the law enforcement setting.
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:
- Provide a clear understanding of the organization’s expectations for the officers behavior
- 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
- 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:
- Identifying the Issue
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.