Emerging Issue Update: Police Body Cameras
Seattle police officer with body camera, courtesy of City of Seattle.
Interest in the use of police body cameras continues to grow as many state legislatures now have begun to consider and adopt new laws aimed at studying, regulating, and funding their use. More local governments are also beginning to adopt policies (including some in Washington) to regulate the use of body cameras mostly by police officers but also by certain other officials. Here is a roundup of the latest news and information, including a few sample policies, we have been gathering on this still emerging issue.
Body-Worn Camera Legislation Spikes in State Legislatures
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), a majority of states this year are considering police body camera legislation (34 as of May 18). NCSL reports that six states—Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, North Dakota and Utah—have enacted new laws relating to the use of police body cameras. The new state laws include measures that provide for the creation of body camera study committees to review best practices and recommend new policies, standards to govern release of video and audio recordings under open records laws, grant funds to purchase body cameras, and standards for whom police must share video with. NCSL’s Law Enforcement Overview page includes a brief summary of recently adopted police body camera legislation.
While a few bills relating to police body cameras were introduced in the Washington Legislature, none so far have garnered enough support to become law. The Association of Washington Cities’ (AWC) March 13 Legislative Bulletin reported that all of the bills relating to police body cameras (HB 1917, HB 1910 and SB 5732) died in the 2015 Legislature. HB 1917 was supported by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs and AWC. HB 1910 and the identical SB 5732 were backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington. The competing bills varied significantly over issues such as when and how police body cameras could be used, access to video footage, and the degree of local control. AWC says that they remain “committed to crafting sound legislation around the use of body cameras and will continue to work with stakeholders to see that happen.”
Body Camera Use Expanding Beyond Police
A recent article appearing in Government Technology, notes that while body camera use is expanding rapidly among city and county police departments, some communities are beginning to extend body camera use to other public employees whose interactions with citizens may benefit from a video record. Examples include body cameras for parking enforcement, animal control, nuisance code enforcement, and building and fire department inspections.
We are finally starting to see more local police body camera policies either in draft or final adopted form. Here are a few that we have found:
- Airway Heights - Personal Cameras
- Bainbridge Island - Personal Video Recorder Draft Policy
- Bellingham - Body Worn Video Recorder Draft Policy
- Poulsbo - Video/Audio Recording Device
- Pullman - Mobile Audio Video
- Spokane - Body Cameras Draft Policy
- Seattle - Body-Worn Video Pilot Program
Any policies drafted and adopted by your jurisdiction must, of course, be adapted specifically for your jurisdiction’s use and reviewed by legal counsel. Pullman’s policy, which extends the use of body cameras to city code enforcement officers, is the first example I have seen that’s not tied solely to use by police officers. Code enforcement officials often face situations where body camera footage could provide a valuable record of events or even act as a moderating influence on the behavior of a code violator who knows all of their words and actions are being digitally captured. My guess is that we’ll be seeing wider adoption of this particular application.
Additional Police Body Camera Resources
The following resources provide additional information on body camera research, makes and models that are commercially available, benefits and challenges, lessons learned and related information:
- Body-Worn Camera (BWC) Toolkit, U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance - Online resource dedicated to the sharing of information, resources, and research on body-worn camera related subjects, including the benefits and challenges related to the implementation of body-worn camera technology.
- Body-Worn Cameras for Criminal Justice: Market Survey Version 1.0, U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs National Institute of Justice, March 2014 - This survey, published in 2014, aggregates and summarizes information on a number of makes and models of body-worn cameras available today, including the approximate costs of each unit.
- Police Officer Body-Worn Cameras – Assessing the Evidence, by Michael D. White, PhD, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, 2014
- Implementing a Body-Worn Camera Program – Recommendations and Lessons Learned, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, U.S. Department of Justice, 2014
- “What We Can Learn From the Police That Pioneered Body Cameras,” Governing, April 13, 2015
- “Police Body-Worn Cameras: An Overview,” The Police Chief, May 2015
For more background information, see our two previous MRSC Insight articles on this issue:
- Emerging Issue: Police Body Cameras in Washington State, October 14, 2014
- Police Body Cameras: Privacy Implications and Other Considerations, December 3, 2014
If your jurisdiction is considering, or has adopted, a policy for the use of body cameras by police or other officials, please send copies to Byron Katsuyama, MRSC Public Policy and Management Consultant.
MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.