“Model” Body-Camera Policy

At LRIS, we’ve received a number of requests for a “model” body-camera policy that balances the needs of management, of employees, and of the public. In trying to come up with such a policy, we’ve reviewed a large number of policies from different law enforcement agencies. We’ve also reviewed the IACP’s model policy, guidelines from the Police Executive Research Forum, and a number of academic pieces on body-worn camera policies.

Our “model” policy does a number of things. It establishes basic protocols for the issuance and use of body-worn cameras, and the storage of the data captured by the cameras. It describes how a law enforcement agency can use the data, and lines out the rules with respect to the disciplinary, training and other use of the data. It describes when body-worn cameras must be activated and deactivated. It also provides officers with the opportunity to review either recordings taken by them or recordings capturing their image that were taken by other officers.

We’ve placed links to a number of policies on this page. As you’ll see, the rules on body-worn cameras can vary widely from agency to agency. Some of the policies we have reviewed are only two pages long; others are longer than ten single-spaced pages. We’ve tried to keep this policy as simple as possible, and encourage you to review other policies before drafting your own. Most importantly, your state’s statutes (particularly public records laws) and court decisions are deeply implicated by body-worn camera policies, and should be carefully reviewed.

Body-worn camera procedures contain a huge number of fundamental policy choices, depending upon your state laws, department priorities, or simply for philosophical reasons, you may wish to follow, disregard, amplify, or subtract from this sample policy. Here are the major policy choices we see:

  1. Section VI(A) of this policy establishes as the “default” that body-worn cameras will be activated in almost every encounter with a citizen. Some policies take a different approach, and specify the types of interactions where cameras should be activated. Others list a number of exceptions, most commonly witness and victim interviews, interactions with juveniles, or during incidents involving arrests for or investigations of sexual assault or domestic violence. Some policies allow citizens to refuse recording when the officer is in the citizen’s residence.
  2. Section VI(B) of this policy gives the officer the discretion to comply with a citizen’s request to stop recording. Some policies make such compliance mandatory.
  3. Section VI(C) of this policy calls for officers transporting suspects to detention facilities to keep body cameras activated. Some policies make such continued recording optional with the officer.
  4. Section VI(C) of this policy requires the continued activation of cameras while officers are awaiting the arrival of third person (such as a tow truck driver) at a non-confrontational scene. Some policies allow officers to discontinue recording under these circumstances.
  5. Section VI(F) allows officers to use body-worn camera images for non-Departmental purposes (e.g., the officer is a national trainer on an issue) with the consent of the chief. Some policies would not allow such use.
  6. Section VI(G) allows officers to review recordings from cameras at any time, and to do so in the presence of their attorney or labor representative if the officer is the subject of a departmental investigation. Some policies prohibit such review.
  7. This policy deals only with body-worn cameras. Some policies incorporate rules for all digital devices operated by officers. Given the complexity of the issues involved, we’d recommend separate policies for vehicle cameras and body-worn audio recording devices.