Police body camera
In policing equipment, a body camera or wearable camera, also known as body worn video (BWV) or body-worn camera (BWC) or Bodycam (for short), is a wearable audio, video, or photographic recording system used to record events in which law enforcement officers are involved. They are typically worn on the torso of the body on the officer's uniform. Body worn cameras for policing are often similar to other body worn video equipment used by civilians, firefighters, or the military, but are designed to address specific requirements related to law enforcement.
Body Worn Cameras (BWC's) are used by law enforcement to record their interactions with the public, or gather video evidence at crime scenes. There are numerous suppliers across the globe. Current body cameras are much lighter and smaller than the first experiments with wearable cameras as early as 1998. There are several types of body cameras made by different manufacturers. Each camera basically serves the same purpose, yet some function in slightly different ways than others or have to be worn in a specific way. Some are meant to be mounted on the chest or shoulder, while others are attached to glasses or may be worn in a function similar to a headband or on a helmet.
The various needs and budgets of police departments have led to a wide range of body camera equipment to be offered in recent years. Body camera manufacturers have constantly looked for technical innovations to improve their products. Many body cameras offer specific features like HD quality, infrared, night vision, fisheye lenses, or varying degrees of view. Other features specific to law enforcement are implemented in the hardware to integrate the bodycameras with other devices or wearables. Another example are automatic triggers that start the recording when the officer starts a specific procedure, for instance when a fire-arm or taser is pulled from a holster, when a siren is activated or when the car door opens.
Ever since body cameras were first worn by police officers, there has been a debate over whether capabilities that make the camera superior to that of the officer's eyes should be allowed. For instance, infra-red recordings could in hind-sight clearly show that a suspect did or did not carry a gun in his hand, but the officer at the scene may not have been able to see this. This type of issue forces companies to choose whether they want to incorporate 'super human' features into their products, or not. HD video quality, for instance, no doubt improves usability of recordings as evidence, but at the same time increases file size, which in turn leads to an increase in bandwidth requirements for data transfer and storage capacity. At present, HD quality is the industries' standard, but until roughly 2016 that was not the case even though the technology was widely available in other devices.
Another important feature in law-enforcement is buffering: the option to let a body camera 'pre-record'. The bodycam can record continuously and store the most recent for instance thirty seconds. If the officer presses the record-switch, the preceding thirty seconds of recording will be kept. If he does not, the recording will be deleted after thirty seconds have passed on a 'first in, first out' basis. The ability to buffer enables officers to retain video of everything that occurred prior to the moment the record switch was pressed. This buffered video and audio may provide more context to an incident.
Other features are constantly being trialed and implemented into the cameras and the data-storage process, such as cloud storage. Axon offers the possibility of sharing footage outside the police department, for instance with district attorneys or other prosecutors or the courts.
Algorithms can be helpful in sifting through the recorded data that can quickly become overwhelming. Video content analysis, such as facial recognition or automatic indexing of recordings to simplify searching of the data, can help to reduce the time needed to find relevant fragments.
The device and storage are important and often require specific adaptation to make the technology suitable for law enforcement. But another important aspect of bodycams are the policies that shape the way officers use the bodycams. Three main questions are important:
- Who wears the bodycam? This can be an individual voluntary choice or a collective mandatory requirement. Not all officers have this option.
- What has to be recorded? Officers can have discretion to turn the bodycam on or off as they see fit or they can be guided through protocols.
- Who has access to the recordings? Access to the recordings determines to a large extent whether police officers will embrace the technology or not. Important questions in this domain are whether supervisors can access the footage and whether the recordings are public records or not. The rules that determine who has access, influence the willingness of officers to comply to the rules concerning wearing of bodycams and the on/off instructions. Important in this respect is whether the software automatically logs who has accessed the footage and whether any editing has been done.
English language countries
The number of body-worn cameras in use by the police of Australia is growing increasingly prevalent in parallel with other countries. The first bodycams or 'cop-cams' were trialed in Western Australia in 2007. Victoria has been trialing body-worn cameras since 2012, and in 2015 the NSW police announced they had invested $4 million in rolling out body-worn cameras to frontline police officers. Queensland police have had the cameras in operation for some time, and have already collected 155,000 hours worth of footage. According to research being conducted in 2016 'the use of body-worn cameras has now gathered traction in most Australian states and territories'. Despite the increasing prevalence of the devices, some Australian commentators have expressed privacy concerns.
Some police services in Canada such as the Calgary Police Service have outfitted all front-line officers with body-worn video systems since 2019. Police unions in Canada have been opposed to body-worn video systems, citing privacy and cost concerns. In 2015, several city police units, including those in Winnipeg and Montreal, announced plans to experiment with the technology. The Toronto Police Service started a pilot in 2014 with the technology during a year-long study of body-worn cameras. In total, 100 officers were using the technology from May 2015 thru May 2016. The evaluation report concluded that support for the body cameras was strong and increased during the pilot. There were technical issues, for instance with battery life, camera mounting, docking, recharging, ability to classify, ease of review and other issues. Administrative responsibilities associated with the body cameras resulted in significant commitment of time by officers that then was not available to spend on other duties. In September 2016, the Toronto police wanted to put out a call for proposals from suppliers.
The Singapore Police Force announced in January 2015 that officers stationed at its Neighbourhood Police Centres will be issued body cameras with those located at Bukit Merah West. Officers stationed at Ang Mo Kio North, Bedok South, Bukit Merah East, Jurong West and Toa Payoh in June 2015 with the entire island covered by June 2016. The Reveal RS3-SX body camera is issued to the SPF.
The SPF mentioned that strict safeguard are in place with video footage to be deleted 31 days after they're shot unless they're needed in an active case. Officers are allowed to deactivate the cameras at their discretion according to the situation, such as cases of encountering sexual assault victims.
First tests 2005
Body-worn video cameras received wide media coverage because of the first testing of body-worn cameras in the United Kingdom in 2005. The test was begun( with cameras supplied by Audax®) on a small-scale by Devon and Cornwall Police. In 2006, the first significant deployments of body worn video at the national level were undertaken by the Police Standards Unit (PSU) as part of the Domestic Violence Enforcement Campaign (DVEC). The basic command units equipped with the head cameras recorded everything that happened during an incident from the time of arrival which led to the "preservation of good-quality first disclosure evidence from the victim". The evidence gathered was deemed especially useful in the way of supporting prosecutions if the victim was reluctant to give evidence or press charges.
Plymouth study 2007
This led the Home Office to publish a report stating that "evidence gathering using this equipment has the potential radically to enhance the police performance at the scene of a wide range of incidents". In the same report, the Home Office concluded that the Audax® supplied "Cylon" body worn camera system used in Devon and Cornwall had "the ability to significantly improve the quality of the evidence provided by police officers at incidents". However, mostly due to the limitations of the then available technology, it was also recommended that police forces should await the completion of successful trials and projects to re-evaluate the technology before investing in cameras. By July 2007, the Home Office was beginning to encourage the emerging industry and published another document entitled "Guidance for the Police use of Body Worn Cameras". The report was based on the first national pilot of BWV conducted in Plymouth with Audax® Supplied Cylon Cameras using a DEMS supplied by Reveal Media. Tony McNulty MP, Minister of State for Security, Counter-Terrorism and Police wrote a foreword that held BWV in a promising light: "The use of body-worn video has the potential to improve significantly the quality of evidence provided by police officers…video recording from the scene of an incident will capture compelling evidence…that could never be captured in written statements." Despite being hailed as a tool to enhance the quality of evidence, the focus was beginning to shift away from exclusively benefiting prosecutions. The Home Office highlighted that BWV also had the significant potential to "prevent and deter crime". In addition, the final report on the National Pilot for BWV announced that complaints against the officers wearing the cameras had been reduced to zero and time spent on paperwork had been reduced by 22.4%, which led to a 9.2% increase in officer time spent on patrol ("50 minutes of a 9-hour shift").
Over 40 UK police areas with BWV in 2010
Following the national pilot, BWV began to gain some traction in the UK and, by 2008, Hampshire Police began to use the technology in parts of the Isle of Wight and the mainland. These were the first steps that paved the way for Chief Constable Andy Marsh becoming the national lead for BWV. Pioneers of BWV in the UK began to drive the need to review the legislation surrounding the use of the equipment. In 2009 the Security Industry Authority concluded that a CCTV license could be extended to cover the use of a body camera. The summary stated that a CCTV license was required to review footage from a body camera and that a door supervision or security guard license was required to operate a body camera if security activities were also being performed.
In 2010, 5 years after the first BWV venture, over 40 UK police areas were using body cameras to varying degrees. Grampian Police were one such force that initiated a trial in July 2010 which paved the way for the Paisley and Aberdeen body wore video project in 2011. The project was considered a huge success and it was identified that the benefits saved an estimated minimum of £400,000 per year due to the following:
- Increase public reassurance;
- Reduce fear of crime in local communities;
- Increase early guilty pleas;
- Resolve complaints about the police or wardens more quickly;
- Reduce assaults on officers.
The concluding sections of the report on the Paisley and Aberdeen project turned the attention to the digital, back-end solutions for BWV. Now that the benefits of using body cameras were being realized, the implications on the digital infrastructure were being called into question. The report suggested providing "robust central IT support" to have established the processes behind information gathering and monitoring.
Code of Practice surveillance cameras
In 2013 the Home Office released an updated code of practice for surveillance cameras, in which Principle 8 included the use of body cameras, stating: "Surveillance camera system operators should consider any approved operational, technical and competency standards relevant to a system and its purpose and work to meet and maintain those standards". 2013 also saw the start of Operation Hyperion, a Hampshire Police initiative on the Isle of Wight that equipped every frontline police officer with a personal issue body worn camera, the biggest project of its kind at the time. Sergeant Steve Goodier oversaw the project and was adamant that the project would drive legislative changes to free up further uses for body worn cameras. He said "I strongly believe we could make some small changes to legislation that can have a big impact on officers: "PACE was written in 1984 at a time when BWV was not around...We want to get the legislation changed so that BWV could replace the need for handwritten statements from officers when it is likely that an early guilty plea would be entered at court or that the incident could be dealt with a caution or community resolution."
In 2014, the Metropolitan Police Service began a 12 month trial in ten London boroughs, testing the impact of Body Worn Video on complaints, stop and search and criminal justice outcomes for violent offenses. Following the trial, the decision was made to issue body cameras to all officers who have regular engagement with the public. Other officers will be able to access cameras on an ‘as needed’ basis. A total of 22,000 cameras will be issued.
In 2016, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) formally introduced Body Worn Video technology commencing with Derry City and Strabane District, with Belfast becoming the second District to introduce the technology. A pilot Body Worn Video camera scheme was run during 2014/15, which illustrated the benefits of Body Worn Video. On that basis a business case was submitted to the Department of Justice and funding was secured to purchase Body Worn Video technology for officers across the service. In 2017, the Northern Ireland Prison Service implemented Body Worn Video, following the success of the PSNI deployment.
Devon and Cornwall
In September 2018, Devon and Cornwall Police announced their intention to begin outfitting officers with body worn cameras. The force was the first to trial BWV in the UK in 2005. The project was launched alongside Dorset Police. The cameras will be switched on by officers to record specific incidents including performing arrests, searches, stopping motor vehicles for any reason, and during violent incidents or where domestic abuse or modern slavery are suspected.
Law and policies
Following The Law Enforcement Officer-Worn Body Camera Act (eff. 1-1-16), the state of Illinois became one of the first states to have a comprehensive set of rules for police departments in regards to body camera usage. The Chicago Police Department as well as the mayor of the city, Rahm Emanuel, have been vocal about their plan to enact a body-worn camera expansion that would equip police officers by the end of 2017. The goal of this plan, as well as the hiring of more officers, is to improve public trust in the law, expand transparency, and halt the climbing number of homicides. Springfield Police Department (Illinois) has also been among the local departments that have expanded the use of body worn cameras despite the Springfield Police Chief Kenny Winslow stating that "there are still problems with the state body camera law, and many departments in Illinois aren’t adopting the cameras as a result". One of those departments is the Minooka Police Department that discontinued the use of body cameras because they felt overburdened by administrative responsibilities. The considerable cost of cameras and the support of related technology is another factor limiting the speed of their adoption. In New York City, for example, initial purchase of body-worn cameras could cost up to $31 million. However, proponents hypothesized that body-worn cameras would save money by reducing lawsuits targeted towards the police force and by aiding in the dismissal of court cases with digital evidence provided by the recorded footage of the body-worn cameras.
On December 1, 2014, President Barack Obama "proposed reimbursing communities half the cost of buying cameras and storing video—a plan that would require Congress to authorize $75 million over three years to help purchase 50,000 recording devices". He also asked Congress for a $263 million package overall to deal with community policing initiatives that would provide a 50 percent federal match for local police departments to purchase body cameras and to store them. With the push from then President Barack Obama to “expand funding and training to law enforcement agencies through community policing initiatives”, the United States Department of Justice announced in May 2015 that they would grant 73 out of the 285 awards requested for a total of 20 million dollars. This allowed for the purchase and distribution of 21,000 cameras to be placed in active duty. A National Institute of Justice report found this in regards to responding police agencies: "In a sample of police departments surveyed in 2013, approximately 75 percent of them reported that they did not use body-worn cameras". A November 2014 survey of police departments serving the 100 most populous cities, Vocativ found that "41 cities use body cams on some of their officers, 25 have plans to implement body cams and 30 cities do not use or plan to use cams at this time".
Investigations have shown that although in many states the usage of body worn cameras is mandatory, there are instances where some officers have failed to adhere to the law. From 2015 until 2017, there have been nationally recognized scenarios of fatal shootings in San Francisco, Alabama, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles in which the officer was wearing a body camera, but did not activate it during the incident. The Los Angeles Police Department is one of the first to publicly discuss solutions as to how they will try to fix this problem. Small reminders such as stickers in the station and cars are meant to remind officers to use this technology. In addition, Los Angeles Police Department is testing new technology that would activate the cameras at the same time as the officer turns on their emergency lights. The LAPD has also been working with the body camera manufacturer it uses, Taser International, to increase a buffer that saves video from 30 seconds before and after the camera is turned on and off.
Studies have produced mixed findings on the impact of body-worn cameras and the effect these have on police, civilian, or suspect behavior. Early reports touting the benefits of police body cameras were based on limited research of small groups of police officers in a short period of time. In recent years, more robust research became available.
1) 'Yes: they work' - the Rialto and Orlando studies
An impact assessment, based on 54 Rialto police officers wearing body cameras showed that civilian complaints against officers dropped by 88% and "use of force" dropped by 59%. Another report that studied the effects of body-worn cameras for 46 officers of the Orlando Police Department over one year concluded that for officers wearing the body cameras, use-of-force incidents dropped by 53%, civilian complaints dropped by 65%, two in three officers who wore the cameras said they’d want to continue wearing them in the future and that it made them "better officers". Other studies produced similar results. For instance, an analysis by the San Antonio Express-News of San Antonio law enforcement's use of body-worn cameras found that incidents where police used force and formal misconduct complaints decreased significantly. Scholars of crime were unsure to what extent body-worn cameras played a role in these declines, but noted that the results were consistent with trends in other cities were cameras had been introduced.
2) 'No: they don't' - the Washington study
As more studies in more police departments were performed, the evidence became more mixed. One of the most robust studies was done among thousands of Washington, D.C. officers, led by David Yokum at the Lab@DC, a team of scientists embedded in D.C. government, and Anita Ravishankar at D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department (M.P.D.). The evaluation found no effect on use-of-force by officers or on the number of complaints by civilians. The researchers concluded that police officers equipped with body cameras used force and confronted civilians in a similar manner compared with officers without body cameras: “This is the most important empirical study on the impact of police body-worn cameras to date. ... These results suggest we should recalibrate our expectations” of cameras’ ability to make a “large-scale behavioral change in policing, particularly in contexts similar to Washington, D.C.". The study not only presents statistical analyses, but also provides qualitative research and analysis to shed light on the controversies surrounding the cameras. According to the study, several factors could explain why the cameras did not change the behavior of the police - even though there was a high level of compliance to the rules governing the activation of the cameras: desensitization to the cameras and the fact that police officers already performed better due to an increase in monitoring of their actions before the introduction of the cameras. A third possibility was that officers without cameras acted similar to officers with cameras, because they were aware of their colleagues who did wear these devices. Since the Washington-study, several others have been published that concluded the body cameras did not live up to - perhaps too high - expectations. The meta-evaluation cited below contains information on all studies if they met the methodological quality requirements.
3) 'It depends' - meta-evaluations
In reviewing the existing research on police body-worn cameras in 2017, University of Virginia economist Jennifer Doleac noted that the existing research was mixed as to whether the cameras reduce the use of force by police officers or increase the communities' trust in police. But a reduction in complaints against police using excessive force does not necessarily mean there are fewer cases of misconduct, it could mean that people are just not speaking up or the body camera was not turned on and the footage cannot be investigated. More time and research was expected to allow a more precise answer to whether or not body worn cameras improve officer conduct. As more empirical evidence became available, the importance of differences in local contexts and policies was revealed. The level of discretion that officers have in the activation of the body cameras has, for instance, been suggested as one of the deciding characteristics in any body camera policy and therefore in the results that can be expected. Unintended outcomes can even be the result from increased transparency due to over-deterrence: officers who know they are being recorded, will only do the minimum required. These officers will also tend to do everything by the book, reluctant to apply discretion. More information on the results of these meta-evaluations is presented below under 'Impact studies'.
Police unions in several U.S. cities, such as New York City (the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which represents part of the NYPD), Las Vegas, and Jersey City, New Jersey, and St. Louis, Missouri, expressed doubts or opposition to body cameras. Specifically, union officials expressed concerns about possible distraction and safety issues, and questioned "whether all the footage filmed by body cameras will be accessible via public-records requests, whether victims of domestic violence will be hesitant to call police if they know they will be filmed and whether paying for the cameras and maintenance will lead to cuts elsewhere in the police budget". Others have worried about a "gotcha discipline". Some unions have argued that it was "mandatory" for police departments to include provisions about body-worn cameras in union contracts because it would be a "clear change in working conditions" as well as something that could "impact an officer's safety".
The NAACP National Board of Directors has endorsed the use of policy-based automatic body-worn camera solutions for use by law enforcement. The American Civil Liberties Union is an organization that has been a major proponent of body cameras on officers, but only in certain situations. The ACLU has advocated body camera use for both police departments and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, granted that safeguards are in place to protect the privacy of both officers and civilians. However, they have opposed the use of such camera systems for parking enforcement officers, fire marshals, building inspectors, or other code enforcement officers. The questions raised by the ACLU and others fuel the most heated debate on body-worn cameras. Others, such as Black Lives Matter, have released specific policy solutions to tackle the issue of police violence and escalation that include body cameras for police, limited use of force, and demilitarization of the police are a few of the ten crucial policies listed in Campaign Zero.
The use of body-worn cameras by law enforcement offers potential advantages in keeping officers safe, enabling situational awareness, improving community relations and accountability, and providing evidence for trials. A legislation regarding body-worn camera has been enacted by the Ministry of Public Security, making the body-worn camera standard and mandatory policing equipment for law enforcement agencies in China.
Two million police officers are being equipped with this camera in China.
The police in Hong Kong has been experimenting with body cameras since 2013. Based on positive findings from an (unpublished) evaluation, the decision was taken to supply all front-line officers with a bodycam.
The police in Denmark has been credited in English media as the first police force to use body cameras, even before the English pilots of 2007 were initiated. In 2017, the Minister of Justice has equipped security personnel in detention centers with body cameras.
Pilot project 2015
In Finland, a pilot with body cameras was started in 2015. Thirty cameras were used by the Helsinki Police Department to help the police in maintaining public order. It was hoped that body cameras might prevent crime and disorder. Furthermore, it was expected that the cameras could at the same time improve the way the police worked. The cameras were meant to be used in specific settings and only in public places. Filming inside homes would only be allowed as part of a criminal investigation. The data were to be encrypted and could only be accessed with specific software, according to the police. It was expected that most recordings would be deleted right after each shift, because of the need for privacy protection.
By 2020, different police departments in Pakistan were either planning to or has already started using body cams in a bid to maintain accountability. The Islamabad Capital City Police Department was the first to use body cams in field and had plans to acquire and equip more body cams for police officials manning the different checkpoints around the city as well as those police officials who go for snap checkings.
Karachi Police was planning to induct body cams for its officials as the city sees more violence in the shape of street crimes than any other city in Pakistan. Apart from the police, Islamabad traffic police and National Highway and Motorway Police too are either planning or have already started using body cams.
According to a report from 2017 by a working-group, the pilot justified the national roll-out of bodycams in Finland. The report concluded that police officers' safety improved, reduced resistance to the police and better protected police. During the experiment in Helsinki, the report noted, behaviour of citizens improved when people see that the situation is being recorded. The introduction could be based on current legislation, but an additional legal framework would be needed regulating recording and storage of recordings. Filming inside homes is not generally allowed. The cameras could be available at the end of 2018, after the necessary training and purchases. The Federation of Police Officers wants provisions to make sure that human errors will not be problematic for officers wearing cameras. The question is whether police can erase recordings when they want to. According to the working group, this is no different from the handling of other police documentation. During the pilot, the recordings were stored for 24 hours and then wiped, unless a criminal offence was recorded. The working group recommended to extend that period to 96 hours.
Plans for national roll-out in 2018
In early 2018, some 30 cameras were in use at Helsinki police department on a trial basis. The National Police Board recommended in April 2018 to issue all police officers on patrol with cameras. The ambition is to make the procurements in 2018. The two main reasons are to improve officers' safety by reducing confrontations with members of the public and to make recordings that can be used as evidence.
French law enforcement has been experimenting with bodycams - called 'caméra-piéton' or 'mini-caméras' in French - since 2013, but possibly even before then.
National and municipal police have also been outfitted with body cameras, starting with 2 000 cameras in 2017, after experimentation during the previous years. This number of cameras has been expanded and 10 400 additional cameras are being rolled out in what has been called a 'massive deployment'. Nearly 400 municipalities applied for permission to use bodycams in the pilot that was conducted in 2017 and 2018. These communities ranged in size from 1 500 inhabitants like Collias to 100 000+ cities like Marseille and Nice.
In 2018, the senate approved plans to experiment with bodycams in fire fighting and in detention centers. Other organisations that use these small wearable cameras are the national organisation for rail transport (SNCF), but also regional public transport for Paris (RATP). In 2019, public transport company Kéolis, introduced body cameras for its security staff on trams and buses in the city of Brest.
The body cameras in France are intended to de-escalate interventions and reassure the security forces. Formally, according to the 2016 law, that was extended in 2018 for use of bodycams by municipal police officers, the goals of the cameras are:
- prevention of incidents during interventions by the police or the military (gendarmerie nationale);
- detection of violations of the law and the prosecution of the suspects by collecting evidence;
- training and education of officers
The legal framework has been determined by a law of June 3, 2016, by the national committee on information and freedoms (Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés - CNIL). Their opinion is that because of the elevated risks created by surveillance of persons and personal life that could result from the use of these cameras, a specific legal framework was needed. Separate laws have been developed for national police and gendarmerie and for municipal police - the latter being adopted by parliament in 2018. Recordings have to be retained for at least six months. Specific legislation has also been developed for law enforcement in sectors such as rail transportation and regional public transport for Paris. One of the key components of the law in France is that officers are not allowed to review the recordings. However, the bodycams acquired offered this option and would have to be replaced with different type progressively, but not before the end of 2017 - according to the source quoted in the article.
One of the main reasons for the national police, gendarmerie and municipal police to start using bodycams is the systematic recording of identity checks in public places. Starting in March 2017, the police and gendarmerie in 23 prioritised security zones ('zones de securité priorities), including Paris, Marseille, Nice, Toulouse and Lyon, had to record each identity check. Up to 2013, the decision to start a recording was discretionary, but after 2017 recording of these checks was supposed to become the rule. According to a critical article, this requirement was not fulfilled, given the fact that there were 2 500 bodycams available for the total of around 245 000 officers in the country. Some controversy surrounded the introduction because of a statement in the Senate by ministre de l'intérieur, Bruno le Roux, that recording would be triggered automatically - a statement that later had to be revoked because it proved to be incorrect. The report describing the results of the experiment was not published, but a spokesperson of the National Police told a reporter that the cameras increase the legitimacy of officers, pacify difficult situations and offer the possibility to record the specifics of each intervention, in this case identity checks.
The Mayor of the city of Nice has asked the Minister of the Interior to rewrite the legal framework to include live streaming of bodycam-footage. This would enable supervision centers to not only watch regular CCTV-cameras but also body cameras. Included in the request was the suggestion to enable these centers to distribute the footage to the devices in police vehicles. The national privacy watchdog, CNIL, has called for a democratic debate to define appropriate frameworks and to strike a balance between security and the rights and freedoms of everyone.
Reasons for bodycams
In some parts of Germany, some state police services have used body-worn video systems since 2013 and the number of states (German: Land or Länder) where police use bodycams has increased ever since. The reason for the introduction of these cameras in Germany has overwhelmingly been to protect police against assaults from suspects. The second reason is the ability to reconstruct events and to use the recording as evidence. A third reason has been the fact that civilians are filming the police and that the police wants to add their own recordings to what they perceive as selective filming by civilians. As Rüdiger Seidenspinner, the president of the union of policemen for the State of Baden-Württemberg, explained: "The reason is simple: our colleagues have had enough in this era of smartphones of being filmed only when they intervene. What caused the intervention, what actions, insults etc. took place does not seem to concern anyone. Furthermore, we will not use the BodyCam in all situations, but only for specific deployments and especially in areas with high levels of crime". According to a representative sample of 1,200 citizens from Germany in 2015, a majority of 71% is in favour of body cameras and 20% is opposed to the technology.
Länder with bodycams
Detailed information is available on the use of body cameras in five Länder. In State of Hesse, the police were the first force in Germany to use body cams in May 2013. According to official registrations, the resistance (Widerstand) to police decreased from 40 to 25 and only one of the policemen wearing a body camera was wounded, compared to nine colleagues without camera. Following the pilot, the number of bodycams acquired went up from the original 13 to 72 in total, also meant for other areas in Hesse. The success of the pilot inspired many other German cities and the Federal Police to start using body cameras as well. Police services from Hungary, Switzerland, and Austria were interested as well and asked the German police for information.
In the State of Rhineland-Palatinate body cams are in use since July 2015 in the cities of Mainz and Koblenz to reduce violence towards the police and to collect footage that can be used as evidence. The costs of these body cams was 18.500 euro. Based on the positive experiences, eighty more bodycams have been acquired to be deployed in more areas in these two cities. In Hamburg, one of five members in each team that surveils during weekends is equipped with a bodycam since June 2015. These cameras can be pointed in different directions by manually operated remote control. Since 2016, the Bavarian State Police has been testing bodycams in Munich, Augsburg and Rosenheim. The cameras have to be activated in critical situations and at dangerous locations, for instance in nightlife entertainment areas where fighting is a common occurrence. In Baden-Württemberg, bodycams are deployed in Stuttgart, Mannheim and Freiburg since 2016. The aim here is to test the bodycams during one year with the purpose of reducing violence against the police.
Starting in February 2016, the Federal Police began testing bodycams at trainstations in Berlin, Cologne, Düsseldorf and Munich. In early 2017, the Bundestag agreed with government plans to introduce bodycams to protect officers.
All Länder in the country use bodycams, but there are substantial differences in the legal framework. Some have explicitly created a legal basis (Hesse, Hamburg, Saarland, Bremen, Baden-Württemberg), some are still working on it and in the meantime fall back on existing norms (North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony, pilot projects in Bavaria, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saxony-Anhalt, Federal Police). Still others have no concrete plans for legal adaptations (Berlin, Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein and Thuringia).
Milan and Turin 2015 and 2017
In the cities of Milan and Turin, police forces have started experimenting on a small scale with bodycams. One of the first projects started in 2015 in Turin where police used the bodycams for their own protection during protests. Starting in May 2017, ten bodycams were being trialled by the police forces of Turin and Milan to be used in high-risk operations and use-of-force incidents. Part of the trial was to connect the live streams of the cameras to the control-room of the police. The bodycams for these pilots were supplied free of charge by a manufacturer for a period of three months. Based on the experiences during the trials, a decision would have to be reached whether to supply all front-line officers with bodycams. The price for fifty bodycams in Milan was 215,000 euros.
Police officers in Rome have not yet been equipped with bodycams. However, in October 2017, the secretary of the union Sulpl Roma, announced that police officers who ask for them will receive a bodycam before the end of the year 2017. The reason would be two-fold: to modernise the officers' equipment and to settle disputes with drivers who disagree with police, for instance over a fine or the cause of an accident.
The privacy law governing the use of bodycams by police in Italy is the law that protects personal data. According to a spokesperson of the police in Rome the law allows for the creation of video recordings of police interventions, provided the footage is used only for the reconstruction of police activity. The fact that other people including innocent by-standers could be recognised by their faces or voices does not mean the recording can not be used for legitimate purposes.
The first body worn video used by the Dutch police were portable videocameras used by the mounted riot-police in 1997. The first experiments with more modern bodycams date back to 2008 and were all small-scale technical tests. After four large-scale experiments from 2009 through 2011, the conclusion was that bodycams did not reduce violence and aggression against the police, largely due to technical problems with recordings and 'wearability' of the equipment. The Department of Justice concluded that bodycams were not ready to be 'rolled out' on the national level. Regional police forces continued experimenting with bodycams. In 2011, according to a survey by one of the major suppliers of body worn video cameras in the Netherlands, 17 of the 25 regionale police forces were using bodycams in 2011.
In 2015, the Dutch National Police published their plans to integrate more 'sensing' capabilities into routine police work. This plan focused on CCTV, automatic number plate recognition and bodycams. Thirty experiments were conducted with body cameras to determine whether the technology should become part of the standard equipment of all police officers. The biggest experiment was done in Amsterdam where one hundred bodycams were tested for 12 months by 1,500 officers. The trial was monitored and independently evaluated, according to the highest possible methodological standard: a randomised controlled trial. Violence and aggression towards police officers were reduced significantly. Based on these positive findings, the management of the National Police in 2019 decided to roll-out 2,000 bodycams to all front-line police units in the country.
Other law enforcement with bodycams
Other organizations besides the police use bodycams, mainly local law enforcement officers employed by municipalities. All local 'handhavers' or city wardens in Amsterdam and Rotterdam wear bodycams, in addition to over thirty smaller cities. Other organisations use body cameras including public transport, security professionals, ambulances and fire-fighters.
Swedish police have used body cameras, for instance at large football games and demonstrations. According to a spokesperson for the Swedish Police in 2015, body cameras would not become standard equipment for police officers. They would be used for special purposes because there was no need to record all interactions. "We are not in the same situation as the police in the US who need to document everything in order to maintain credibility". Early trials with body cameras have been carried out in Gothenburg and Södertälje in 2017. Many other Swedish police regions expressed interest in using body cameras. The police in Stockholm have piloted body cameras in 2018 and 2019. In total, 300 body cameras were used in three parts of Stockholm to prevent violence against police officers. The Swedish Crime Prevention Council (Brottsförebyggande rådet - Brå) evaluated the pilot. The evaluation revealed that the body cameras had the intended effects, but on a relatively modest scale. Certain types of violence decreased: harassment and violence using weapons. Sexual intimidation of female officers was reduced too. The sense of security improved, according to interviews with officers: people 'guard their tongue'. Physical violence has not decreased in the same amount. According to the police, this type of violence is perpetrated by people who are either drunk or mentally troubled. Their behaviour is not adjusted when they realise they are being filmed. Footage has rarely been used as evidence in courts: overall, 178 recordings were pulled for prosecution and conviction. In roughly half of these cases, the footage was used as evidence, but in the other half the decision was made to not submit the recording as evidence. Another conclusion is that the level of activation of bodycams varied from one officer to the next. There was a lack of clear instructions and guidelines on which situations needed to be recorded. The researchers believe that the bodycams could lead to more positive outcomes if a better strategy for the deployment of the bodycams would be developed and implemented.
Other law enforcement
The Swedish army in Afghanistan has used helmet cameras, according to this article from 2015. In 2016, train hosts in Gothenburg and West Sweden started testing bodycams. They were only allowed to turn on the cameras if a passenger became violent or threatened to use violence. Public transport in Stockholm, Storstockholms Lokaltrafik, started using body cameras in 2018. Security guards were the first to start using these cameras and ticket controllers followed in December 2018. The cameras are used in order to improve the safety of staff. Additionally, the cameras can be used to make a recording of travellers without a valid ticket. By filming them, the identity of the person in question can be verified even if they used someone else's identity during the check.
United Arab Emirates
Following a successful six month pilot scheme, the Dubai Police Force decided to adopt body worn video technology in 2015. Speaking to the media at the time, Gen Al Muzeina flagged-up the value of footage from these cameras. He said that this evidence could, potentially, be used where there are objections to traffic offences or a failure by officers to meet acceptable standards. The Abu Dhabi Police also confirmed in the same year that – following two years of trials – it would be rolling out body worn video cameras to patrol officers.
In 2019, a team of researchers published the most comprehensive overview to date of the impact of BWCs. They based their overview on seventy empirical studies, most from U.S. jurisdictions (74%). The study reports on officer behavior, officer perceptions, citizen behavior, citizen perceptions, police investigations, and police organizations.
Impact on officer behavior is measured by complaints, use of force reports, arrests/citations or proactive behaviors. This is one of the greatest expectations of BWCs by civilians: that these cameras can change police officer behavior. Studies in this area (22 studies looked at complaints) have mostly shown that officers wearing BWCs receive fewer complaints than do those that are not wearing the cameras. The more important concern for police agencies and researchers is why complaints decline. It may be because of a change in officer behavior. But it may also be a more complex story involving reduction of frivolous, malicious or unfounded complaints because civilians change their behavior. The number of complaints as a measure of officer behavior may itself be problematic: they are rare and only reflect exceptional occurrences, not the everyday officer interactions with the public.
Use of force (16 studies) went down according to five of the rigorous impact studies. Four other studies, however, showed no statistically significant effects. The level of discretion officers have may explain these differences, one team of researchers suggested. As with complaints, use of force is rare and may not be the best measure of the impact of BWCs on police officer behavior. Other studies look at arrests and citation behaviors (fourteen studies showed 'no clear patterns') or on proactivity (six studies: 'results not definitive'). The question whether BWCs impact on disparate outcomes in policing has yet to be tackled.
Officer attitudes about BWCs
At least 32 studies focused on officer attitudes about cameras. First of all, the authors describe the methodological challenges of many of these studies. Despite those issues and despite mixed findings, one consistent theme is that once officers start using cameras, they feel positive or become more positive about BWCs.
At least 16 studies were aimed at examining the Impact of BWCs on civilian behavior. This can be measured by compliance with the police, willingness to call the police, willingness to cooperate in investigations or crime and disorder when an officer is present. The results were varied and some aspects have not been studied at all, for instance the concern that BWCs may reduce people's willingness to call the police due to worries about personal privacy.
Sixteen studies looked at civilian attitudes about BWCs. This can be measured by looking at satisfaction with specific officer encounters or satisfaction with police more broadly, attitudes related to privacy and impact on fear of crime and safety. Civilians often have high expectations: police will be more accountable and civilian confidence in the police will increase. This can depend however on certain backgrounds (age, race, prior experiences). BWCs seem not to remedy the disparates between the legitimacy afforded to the police by various groups. Results from studies looking at broad satisfaction and privacy concerns are unclear. The few studies that looked at fear showed that civilians who know they are being recorded express strong agreement that BWCs make them feel safer and more confident in the police.
This aspect consists of criminal investigations, crime resolution, intelligence gathering or court proceedings and outcomes. Prosecutors rarely bring cases against the police and it remains to be seen whether this will change much as a result of BWCs. Empirical results are hard to find. Three studies (all from the UK) revealed positive outcomes: officers can pursue prosecution even without victim cooperation and cases may more likely be charged.
This is about training, policies, accountability, supervision et cetera. It is the least researched area, with some exceptions. Technologies often have unintended consequences on police. Much more research is needed to understand whether BWC footage can help officers to learn skills better and whether that in turn has an impact on their actual behaviour. BWCs can - in theory - strengthen the accountability structure in an organisation, but perhaps not if existing accountability mechanisms in the agency are weak. BWCs for instance will unlikely improve mentorship or supervision in an agency that does not value such mentorship or supervision.
According to Harlan Yu, executive director from Upturn, police body cameras are best embedded in a broader change in culture and legal framework. In particular, the public's ability to access the body camera footage is currently still an issue which affects usefulness of police body camera's against police brutality.
As with all forms of surveillance, bodycams highlight issues of privacy. There is concern about the privacy of the people being filmed (suspects, victims, witnesses) but also about that of the officers wearing the cameras or the officers whose actions are recorded by their colleagues.
With 88% of Americans and 95% of Dutch people supporting body cameras on police officers, there is strong public support for this technology. However, it is important to note that not all civilians are necessarily aware of the presence of bodycams. A study in Milwaukee revealed that awareness of the bodycams was comparatively low in the first year following implementation (36%) but increased after two more years (76%). In that study, respondents were asked whether they thought bodycams would improve relationships between the police and community members: 84 percent (strongly) agreed. An even larger proportion, 87 percent, (strongly) agreed that Body-Worn Cameras would hold Milwaukee police officers accountable for their behaviors. These percentages hardly changed in the three years following introduction, which suggests that opinions such as these are independent of awareness of bodycams. According to findings in criminology, body-worn cameras have been shown to improve citizens' reactions to police encounters.
One possibility is that a police officer wearing this technology could become a 'roving surveillance camera'. If the bodycams are equipped with biometric facial recognition technology, this could have a major impact on people's everyday lives, depending on the reliability of the technology to prevent false positives (those that are mistaken for a person on a list of suspects, for instance). Furthermore, cameras equipped with facial recognition technology heighten worries over “secret surveillance at a distance”. Information about civilian whereabouts can consistently be tracked if they appear in public and it happens without their knowledge. There are more concerns about the advancement of these facial recognition technologies in body cams and the lack of government regulation over them. Particular concerns have been noted with respect to the use of cameras equipped with facial recognition at public protests. It has been suggested that such camera use may "chill" rights of free speech and association.
Looking at the United States in particular, there are 117 million Americans in the FBI's shared database according to the Georgetown Report. People can become fearful of the police's ability to identify them in public and gather information about where they've been and where they might be going. In the US, there is no federal law in place that directly protects Americans when it comes to the use of facial recognition technology. Only the states of Illinois and Texas have regulations, “that require(s) an individual to give consent for their biometrics to be used, protecting its application in a system that it was not originally intended for”.
In the context of recording, the biggest issues arise from whether consent from parties involved is required before starting a recording. The nature of police work has officers interacting with civilians and suspects during their most vulnerable moments, such as those in the hospital, or domestic violence cases. There is also a threat of people not coming forward with tips for fear of being recorded. In terms of the police officer's private contexts, they may forget to turn off cameras in the bathroom or in private conversations. These situations should be considered as the technology is developed further and the use of it is becoming more saturated. In the U.S. federal and individual states have varying statutes regarding consent laws.
Search and seizure
Another major concern that has arisen since the implementation of police body cameras is how these technologies will affect the privacy rights of individuals in regards to search and seizure laws. The 1967 Supreme Court case Katz v. United States determined that “there need not be a physical or technical trespass to constitute a search or seizure deserving of constitutional protection.” Extraction of sensitive information from individuals through electronic transmission is deemed to be unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment. Police body camera recordings conducted on private property without a warrant or probable cause are expected to violate the individual search and seizure rights of the property owner. Video recordings conducted in public spaces aren't generally subject to Fourth Amendment protections under the “plain view” doctrine developed by the Supreme Court. In these circumstances an officer can record an individual and their actions as long as they are in public spaces. Many other nations have their own search and seizure laws that have specific implications associated with the use of body cameras worn on police officers.
Body cameras require sizeable investments. In 2012, the price of the camera itself was between $120 and $1,000, according to a market survey by the United States Department of Justice in which seven suppliers were compared. A more recent market survey in 2016, describing 66 body cameras of 38 different vendors, showed that the average price (or actually: the average manufacturer's suggested retail prices) was $570, with a minimum of $199 and a maximum of $2,000. In 2017, based on information from 45 police forces in the United Kingdom, research showed that nearly 48,000 body cameras had been purchased and that £22,703,235 had been spent on the cameras. Dividing this total by the number of cameras gives an estimate of the average costs per camera: £474. The minimum was £348 for the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the maximum was £705 for the Metropolitan Police Service. These differences may be partly attributable to the fact that some forces have included more types of costs than other forces.
In any case, the camera itself is just the start of the expenses. Police departments also have to run software and store data for all the cameras which can add up quickly. Other costs include maintenance, training and evaluations. In addition, several indirect costs will be incurred by bodycams, for instance, the hours police and others in the criminal justice system spend on managing, reviewing and using the recordings for prosecution or other purposes such as internal reviews, handling of complaints or education. These 'hidden' costs are difficult to quantify, but by looking into total cost of ownership, some indication can be given of the percentage of costs is associated with the body cameras themselves or other expenses:
- The New South Wales Police Force in Australia produced 930 terabytes of recorded video each year with 350 bodycams. The costs involved in storing and managing the data was estimated at 6.5 million Australian dollars each year. The body cams were bought for less than 10% of that amount.
- The Los Angeles Police Department (United States) acquired 7,000 cameras in 2016 for an amount of $57.6 million. At an estimated price of $570 per camera, the costs of the cameras would be around $4 million, which is 7% of the total amount. The other costs involve replacement equipment and digital storage of the recordings.
- Police in Denver, Colorado (United States) bought 800 body cams and storage servers for the amount of $6.1 million. The price of the body cams was estimated to be 8% of that amount, the other 92% was spent on storage of recordings and management and maintenance of the body cams. The costs involved in reviewing, editing and submitting recorded video or the training of personnel were not included.
- Rochester Police Department (NY, United States) purchased 550 cameras in January 2016 and from July 2016 to March 2017, successfully deploy 500 cameras to all patrol Lieutenants, Sergeants and Officers. Additional information on the full deployment can be found here. The Rochester Institute of Technology provides a full report of the program here.
- The Sacramento Police Department (California, United States) purchased 890 cameras for all patrol staff under a five-year, $4 million agreement. Storage on an ongoing basis was expected to cost about $1 million per year. The city would also hire three full-time police employees to handle technology issues, including editing of video.
- The Houston Police Department (Texas, United States) estimated that the total cost of about 4,100 cameras was $3.4 million for the equipment and an expected $8 million over five years to buy servers and other equipment to store video collected by the cameras, plus staffing costs.
- Toronto Police Services concluded that the major challenge associated with any adoption of body-worn cameras is the cost. Staffing, technology and storage requirements would be about $20 million in the first year of implementation, with a total 5-year estimated cost of roughly $51 million, not including costs for integration of records management and video asset management systems. The most expensive component would be storage of recordings reaching nearly 5 petabytes in five years
Costs and benefits
All costs and benefits, including indirect costs and benefits, have to be weighed against each other in a cost-benefit analysis, to be able to judge whether body cameras lead to a positive or negative business case. The police in Kent, United Kingdom, predicted a positive business case within two years after their investment of £1.8 million in body cameras, purely because of a reduction in the number of complaints.
Manufacturers and suppliers
In a 2012 market survey by the U.S. Department of Justice, eight companies producing body cameras were compared: Taser International, VisioLogix, StalkerVUE, Scorpion, FirstVU, Wolfcom, MuviView and Panasonic. In 2014, the three top companies that had been producing body cameras throughout the United States were Taser International, VieVu, and Digital Ally. In 2016, a market survey described 66 body worn video cameras produced by 38 different vendors.
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- Visit the Dutch page on bodycams to find references and more examples.
- "Bärbar kamera ska ge tryggare kontroller" [Portable camera should provide safer controls]. www.sll.se (in Swedish). Retrieved January 27, 2019.
- Radio, Sveriges. "Stockholm police to start using body cameras - Radio Sweden". Retrieved June 8, 2018.
- Marklund, Fredrik (February 19, 2020). "Minskad utsatthet för poliser med kroppsburna kameror" [Reduction of aggression towards police officers with body-worn cameras]. www.bra.se (in Swedish). Brottsförebyggande rådet. Retrieved February 19, 2020.
- "Bärbar kamera ökar säkerheten i utsatta jobb" [Portable camera increases security in vulnerable jobs]. Arbetarskydd (in Swedish). Retrieved January 27, 2019.
- SAHLBERG, Anders. "Kontrollanter och tågvärdar får egna kameror" [Controllers and train hosts get their own camera]. gp.se (in Swedish). Retrieved January 27, 2019.
- "Dubai police to test body worn cameras". Retrieved May 25, 2015.
- "Body Worn Video camera surveillance solutions on trial for police officers". Retrieved September 16, 2016.
- Lum, Cynthia; Stoltz, Megan; Koper, Christopher S.; Scherer, J. Amber (2019). "Research on body-worn cameras". Criminology & Public Policy. 18 (1): 93–118. doi:10.1111/1745-9133.12412. ISSN 1745-9133.
- Murphy, Julian R. (June 19, 2019). "Is It Recording?—Racial Bias, Police Accountability, and the Body-Worn Camera Activation Policies of the Ten Largest Metropolitan Police Departments in the USA". Columbia Journal of Race and Law. 9 (2018).
- Body camera's haven't stopped police brutality. Here's why
- Why Police Body Cameras Haven't Stopped Police Brutality
- Police body cameras don't tell the whole story
- Edwards-Levy, Ariel (April 16, 2015). "There's Near-Universal Support For One Police Reform Proposal". The Huffington Post. Retrieved March 3, 2017.
- CapGemini (2017). "Trends in Veiligheid". Trends in Veiligheid. Archived from the original on October 27, 2017. Retrieved October 26, 2017.
- "Community Views of Milwaukee's Police Body-Worn Camera Program". Urban Institute. August 22, 2018. Retrieved August 29, 2018.
- Tilley, Aaron. "Artificial Intelligence Is Coming To Police Bodycams, Raising Privacy Concerns". Forbes. Retrieved March 3, 2017.
- "'Invisible' facial recognition technology raises privacy concerns". NBC News. Retrieved November 10, 2017.
- Julian Redmond Murphy, "Chilling: The Constitutional Implications of Body-Worn Cameras and Facial Recognition Technology at Public Protests" (2018) 75 Washington & Lee Law Review Online 1 https://scholarlycommons.law.wlu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1104&context=wlulr-online
- "Recording Phone Calls and Conversations | Digital Media Law Project". www.dmlp.org. Retrieved March 3, 2017.
- "Police Perspective: The Pros & Cons of Police Body Cameras". www.rasmussen.edu. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
- Nielsen, Erik. "Fourth Amendment Implications of Police-Worn Body Cameras" (PDF). St. Mary's Law Journal. 48.
- National Institute of Justice U.S. Department of Justice (2012). A Primer on Body Worn Cameras for Law Enforcement (PDF) (Report). Retrieved March 4, 2017.
- Hung, Vivian; Babin, Steven (2016). "A Market Survey on Body Worn Camera Technologies" (PDF). Laurel, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Retrieved March 5, 2017.
- Smile you're on body worn camera Part II - Police; The use of body worn cameras by UK police forces (PDF). Big Brother Watch. 2017. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 15, 2017. Retrieved August 21, 2017.
- "How Police Body Cameras Work". HowStuffWorks. June 12, 2015. Retrieved March 3, 2017.
- Mather, Kate; Zahniser, David (June 21, 2016). "Deal to spend $57.6 million on LAPD body cameras clears key hurdle". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 13, 2017.
- Gaub; et al. (2016). "Officer Perceptions of Body-Worn Cameras Before and After Deployment: A Study of Three Departments". Police Quarterly. 19 (3): 275–302. doi:10.1177/1098611116653398. S2CID 4943048.
- Chabria, Anita; Chavez, Nashelly (March 7, 2017). "Sacramento police will put body cameras on all patrol officers by September". The Sacramento Bee. Retrieved March 8, 2017.
- Morris, Mike; Kragie, Andrew (March 1, 2017). "City pauses police body camera rollout over battery questions". Chron. Retrieved March 13, 2017.
- "1.8 million body cam rollout will pay for itself". Police Oracle. September 24, 2015. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
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