As discussed in our previous blog article, Body Cameras – Part 1: Weighing the Pros and Cons, there are arguments that can be made for and against the use of police body cameras.
Further, to reduce the negatives surrounding the use of body cameras, agencies often now adopt policies and procedures regarding body cameras, train staff to follow the polices and procedures, and enforce these adopted policies and procedures.
Guidelines for Body Cameras in Policies and Procedures
The development of policies and procedures for law enforcement’s use of body cameras can be a daunting exercise. Some states have taken on the task of establishing minimum requirements for policies and procedures covering such devices. Keep in mind that if your state has yet to adopt such guidelines, the guidelines from other states can be helpful in understanding what the standards and best practices are throughout the law enforcement industry throughout the United States. These clarified understandings can then be helpful to you as you develop your own standards respective of your department’s needs.
An Example from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement
As an example, Texas is a state that has established rules related to the use of body cameras. Here are the guidelines issued by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE).
Texas Occupations Code §1701.655 establishes requirements for body worn camera policies for law enforcement agencies implementing a body worn camera program. The list below includes the items required to appear in your agency’s policy.
The policy must include:
Guidelines for when a peace officer should activate a camera or discontinue a recording currently in progress, considering the need for privacy in certain situations and at certain locations.
Provisions relating to data retention, including a provision requiring the retention of video for a minimum period of 90 days.
Provisions relating to storage of video and audio, creation of backup copies of the video and audio, and maintenance of data security.
Guidelines for public access, through open records requests, to recordings that are public information.
Provisions entitling an officer to access any recording of an incident involving the officer before the officer is required to make a statement about the incident.
Procedures for supervisory or internal review.
The handling and documenting of equipment and malfunctions of equipment.
A policy may not require a peace officer to keep a body worn camera activated for the entire period of the officer’s shift.
A policy adopted under this section must be consistent with the Federal Rules of Evidence and Texas Rules of Evidence.
A policy must ensure that a body worn camera is activated only for a law enforcement purpose.
In addition to the minimum requirements, TCOLE also provides sample policies and procedures for Texas agencies to follow.
Agencies Should Establish Policies & Procedures for Using Body Cameras
No matter the jurisdiction, once the decision is made to utilize body cameras, the agency should establish policies and procedures surrounding the use of the body cameras, train staff regarding the use and the requirements of the policies and procedures, and enforce the adopted policies and procedures.