Our Model Body Cam Policy has been updated. The new version is here.
Drone Free St. Louis recognizes that front facing body cameras for police are a tool that moves our community towards police accountability. While the ability to review police behavior and actions is a positive step that is supported by our coalition, body cameras are not the end solution in police accountability. Any policy reform that includes body cameras must acknowledge the point that body cameras are only a tool and do not provide real reform without the proper community backed standards and regulations. Body cameras must not become a method for roving government surveillance of citizens when there is no reasonable suspicion of criminal wrongdoing. We have included our policy guidelines for police body cameras, based on recommendations from the COPS Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and the ACLU, as follows.
Model Body Camera Policy
- Cameras deployed should have the capacity, when turned on, to record a thirty second loop so that the previous thirty seconds are saved whenever the record button is activated.
- Specific Department personnel should be designated as responsible for ensuring cameras are charged and in proper working order, for reporting and documenting problems with cameras, and for reissuing working cameras to avert malfunction claims if critical footage is not captured.
- Privately-owned cameras are not permitted.
- Cameras must be worn on chest.
- Cameras should be limited to uniformed officers, with an exception for SWAT teams or others planned uses of force when they involve non-uniformed officers.
- The camera’s record function must be activated whenever an officer is interacting with the public. The only exceptions to this requirement are when circumstances would make such activation unsafe, impossible or impractical, or are specifically listed below.
- Once activated, the body-worn camera should remain in recording mode until the conclusion of an incident/encounter, the officer has left the scene, or a supervisor has authorized (on camera) that a recording may cease.
- Policies should provide clear guidance regarding the circumstances under which officers will be allowed to exercise discretion to record, the factors that officers should consider when deciding whether to record, and the process for documenting whether to record.
- Failure to record when required to do so will result in the following serious consequences unless explicitly justified by exigent circumstances:
- Serious disciplinary action against the officer involved;
- Perhaps an exclusionary rule for any evidence obtained; and
- In cases where misconduct is alleged, there would be an evidentiary presumption against the officer.
- Whenever practicable, officers are required to give a full explanation on tape as to why they are turning a camera off. If this is not practicable, explanation must be given in writing.
Privacy Exceptions to Recording
- Officers should be required, wherever practicable, to notify people that they are being recorded. One possibility departments might consider is for officers to wear an easily visible pin or sticker saying “lapel camera in operation” or words to that effect.
- Regardless of the general recording policy, officers should be required to obtain consent prior to recording interviews with crime victims.
- Regardless of the general recording policy, officers should have the discretion to keep their cameras turned off during conversations with crime witnesses and members of the community who wish to report or discuss criminal activity in their neighborhood.
- Cameras must not be used to surreptitiously gather intelligence information based on First Amendment protected speech, associations, or religion.
- Agencies should prohibit recording other agency personnel during routine, non-enforcement-related activities unless recording is required by a court order or is authorized as part of an administrative or criminal investigation.
- Policies should clearly state any other types of recordings that are prohibited by the agency. Prohibited recordings should include the following:
- conversations with confidential informants and undercover officers;
- places where a reasonable expectation of privacy exists (e.g., bathrooms or locker rooms);
- strip searches; and
- conversations with other agency personnel that involve case tactics or strategy.
- Officers must ask resident whether they wish for a camera to be turned off before they enter a home in non-exigent circumstances. (Citizen requests for cameras to be turned off should themselves be recorded to document such requests.) Cameras should never be turned off in SWAT raids and similar police actions.
- Data should be retained by a reputable, experienced third-party vendor, provided that the following safeguards are in place:
- upon consultation with prosecutors and legal advisors, there exists an unimpeachable audit trail to preserve the chain of custody;
- there exists a legal contract that governs the vendor relationship so that the videos are owned by the police agency and their use and access are governed by agency policy;
- there exists a system that has a built-in audit trail to prevent data tampering and unauthorized access or copying; and
- there exists a system that has a reliable method for automatically backing up data, and automatically deleting it after the retention period expires.
- Policies should designate the officer as the person responsible for downloading recorded data from his or her body-worn camera by the end of each shift in which the camera was used. However, in certain clearly identified circumstances (e.g., officer-involved shootings, in-custody deaths, or other incidents involving the officer that result in a person’s bodily harm or death), the officer’s supervisor should immediately take physical custody of the camera and should be responsible for downloading the data.
- Retention periods should be only for a period of weeks—only long enough to allow for the filing of a complaint–and video should be deleted after that period unless a recording has been flagged. A flagged recording should be retained for a defined period as prescribed by law or as necessary to adjudicate complaints.
- Retention policies should be posted online on the department’s website, so that people who have encounters with police know how long they have to file a complaint or request access to footage.
- Flagging should occur automatically for any incident:
- involving a use of force;
- that leads to detention or arrest; or
- where either a formal or informal complaint has been registered.
- Any subject of a recording should be able to flag a recording, even if not filing a complaint or opening an investigation.
- The police department (including internal investigations and supervisors) and third parties should also be able to flag an incident if they have some basis to believe police misconduct has occurred or have reasonable suspicion that the video contains evidence of a crime. Officers should properly categorize and flag body-worn camera videos at the time they are downloaded if such work has not already been accomplished in the field. Specified police personnel should also be able to flag a limited number of videos for supervisory or training purposes.
- If any useful evidence is obtained during an authorized use of a recording (see below), the recording would then be retained in the same manner as any other evidence gathered during an investigation.
- The use of recordings should be allowed only in internal and external investigations of misconduct, and where the police have reasonable suspicion that a recording contains evidence of a crime. Limited exceptions should be allowed for supervisory purposes:
A. when a supervisor is investigating a complaint against an officer or a specific incident in which an officer was involved;
B. to identify and use videos for training purposes; or
C. to insure compliance with recording policies and protocols under the following circumstances:
1) when officers are still in a probationary period or are with a field training officer;
2) when officers have had a pattern of allegations of verbal or physical abuse;
3) when officers, as a condition of being put back on the street, agree to a more intensive review; or
4) when officers are identified through an early intervention system.
- .An agency’s internal audit unit, rather than the officer’s direct chain of command, should periodically conduct a random review of body-worn camera footage to monitor compliance with the program and assess overall officer performance.
- People recorded by cameras should have access to, and the right to make copies of, those recordings, for however long the government maintains copies of them. That should also apply to disclosure to a third party if the subject consents, or to criminal defense lawyers seeking relevant evidence.
- Redaction of video records should be used when feasible — blurring or blacking out of portions of video and/or distortion of audio to obscure the identity of subjects. If recordings are redacted, they should be open records.
- Unredacted, unflagged recordings should not be publicly disclosed without consent of the subject. These are recordings where there is no indication of police misconduct or evidence of a crime. The state may need to amend the Sunshine Law to accommodate this policy.
- Flagged recordings are those for which there is the highest likelihood of misconduct, and thus the ones where public oversight is most needed. Redaction of disclosed recordings is preferred, but when that is not feasible, unredacted flagged recordings should be publicly disclosed, because in such cases the need for oversight outweighs the privacy interests at stake.
- Agency personnel should be explicitly forbidden from accessing recorded data for personal use and from uploading recorded data onto public and social media websites.
Training and Evaluation
- Body-worn camera training should be required for all agency personnel who may use or otherwise be involved with body-worn cameras. All training must be completed before agency personnel are equipped with cameras or allowed to access camera data. Such training should include:
- an overview of relevant state laws governing consent, evidence, privacy, and public disclosure;
- procedures for operating the equipment safely and effectively;
- scenario-based exercises that replicate situations that officer might encounter in the field;
- procedures for downloading and tagging recorded data;
- procedures for accessing and reviewing recorded data (only for personnel authorized to access the data);
- procedures for preparing and presenting digital evidence for court; and
- procedures for documenting and reporting any malfunctioning device or supporting system.
- A body-worn camera training manual should be created in both digital and hard-copy form and should be readily available at all times to agency personnel.
- Agencies should collect statistical data concerning body-worn camera usage, including when video footage is used in criminal prosecutions, by internal affairs matters, and when/how often it is released to the public. Statistics should be publicly released at various specified points throughout the year or as part of the agency’s year-end report.