Sustaining a Successful BWC Program: Camden County, New Jersey, Police Department
The Camden County, New Jersey, Police Department began its body-worn camera (BWC) program in 2015 with a pilot program. Camden County received its first Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) BWC Policy and Implementation (PIP) grant in 2016 and a second BWC grant in 2017. The agency employs around 650 employees, including 450 sworn officers, and is responsible for providing preventive and reactive policing services for the residents of Camden City, which covers 8.9 square miles and serves a population of 78,000. Camden County instituted a variety of personnel positions, mechanisms, and safeguards to ensure the success and sustainability of the BWC implementation.
In addition, Camden County conducted a thorough period of testing and evaluation of its technology upon implementation to ensure that the technology met its needs and was a system that the department could feasibly maintain. This evaluation came about after the initial BWC pilot implementation revealed several reliability issues related to system and device failures, which resulted in Camden County changing vendors. As part of this vendor change, Camden County also elected to transition from an internal storage server to a cloud-based solution to ensure that all future storage needs would be met in the most cost-efficient manner. A thorough testing and evaluation period of both the BWC equipment and proposed storage solution is critical to implementing a sustainable BWC program.
Camden County assigned an internal administrator to lead the BWC program. The primary role of the administrator is to manage and ensure the success of the BWC program. The department views this position as a vital function of the program. It provides the program with a consistent and engaged commander, allows for sustainability planning, and ensures effective program evaluation. If the administrator needs to make a transition due to promotion or transfer, Camden County will look at this transition as an opportunity to revitalize the program and potentially bring forth new management ideas.
Camden County has also implemented several auditing processes to ensure that the BWC program is functioning appropriately and in a sustainable manner. These reviews include policy compliance and auditing, supervisory audits, and a department-wide audit process. Camden County randomly audits approximately 15 percent of all BWC videos to ensure that the program is performing effectively. However, 100 percent of BWC videos of officers who have entered the early warning system is reviewed, along with BWC videos of officers under an Internal Affairs review, under training requirements, and for penalty reasons. It is important to note that, in the beginning, Camden County audited 100 percent of all BWC videos to ensure that cameras were activated according to policy requirements. This strenuous audit process occurred for a few months before scaling down to the current audit process. Because of the robust amount of auditing conducted, Camden County hired civilian staff to assist with audits. These civilian staff members had basic IT skills and were skilled in the use of computers. It was a benefit if they had prior experience and knowledge of extracting videos. Camden County also found that it was important to have civilian staff who exhibited a positive demeanor. The civilians who were hired to assist with audits were overseen by a staff of retired sworn officers. The move to hire civilian staff has led to greater efficiency and a cost saving for the department. As an example, a senior-level sworn officer is typically compensated about $120,000 a year, including benefits, whereas civilians or retired officers are compensated about $40,000 a year.
The department actively uses BWC technology and videos during training of new officers to instill the use of the technology early on and as a way to enhance officer and program capabilities. For example, if an officer is observed using poor tactics or de-escalation techniques during an audit of BWC footage, a senior training officer is assigned to that officer to review the BWC footage to identify better methods when handling a situation of the same nature (i.e., tactics, de-escalation, policy). This training session is documented, and it occurs before any disciplinary action is taken. In 2019, Camden County conducted over 80 of these formal training sessions. Camden County also uses BWC video to identify positive police-civilian interactions and reinforce behavior by commendation for de-escalation.
Camden County has implemented these measures and several others to ensure that the BWC program continues to perform at its peak capabilities. The agency continually assesses program policies and procedures, technology needs and improvements, and the needs of both the community and officers not only to sustain the BWC program, but also to enhance it.
This project was supported by Grant No. 2015-DE-BX-K002 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justiceand Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the SMART Office. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.