Benefits of Body Worn Cameras

Attorney General Law Enforcement Directive Number 2015-1

It is widely recognized that body-worn cameras (BWCs) can play an important role in addressing public concerns about police use of force. A BWC recording of a police-involved shooting or other use-of-force event provides objective evidence of what occurred. The practical utility of BWCs, however, lies not only in their ability to record objectively the circumstances of a police-civilian confrontation but also in their capacity to discourage both officers and civilians from engaging in inappropriate conduct. Thus, for example, a BWC operating during a police-civilian encounter can deter the officer from using force inappropriately, while at the same time deter a civilian from engaging in provocative conduct that might prompt the officer to use force. These devices also can serve to discourage both law enforcement and civilian witnesses from providing false information about the circumstances of the encounter; a BWC recording not only can vindicate an officer who is falsely accused of misconduct, and do so very quickly, but also will discourage a person from making false allegations against the officer in the first place.

The foregoing benefits provide ample reason for police departments to consider deploying BWCs. The practical utility of these recording devices, however, is not limited to those rare occasions when police employ force or are accused by civilians of misconduct. BWC recordings will be used far more routinely to document visual and aural evidence learned in the course of conducting police investigations. Not only will BWC recordings preserve accurate visual depictions of physical evidence, such as weapons and illicit drugs and paraphernalia, but also will document where and how physical evidence was found, thereby helping to establish the facts that must be presented in Fourth Amendment suppression hearings. BWCs also will record the physical appearance of suspects and crime victims, preserving evidence of any apparent injuries. The audio portion of BWC recordings, meanwhile, will document witness and suspect statements, preserving not only the substantive content of those statements but also showing whether officers had complied with Miranda and other legal requirements.

Although BWCs record events accurately and objectively, they do not replace the need for complete and accurate police reports and testimony. The fact that a BWC is not activated to record an encounter or event does not, of course, preclude an officer from testifying as to the circumstances of the encounter or event, or affect the admissibility of evidence. Nor does it suggest that the officer's written report or testimony is inaccurate or incomplete. However, a BWC recording can supplement and corroborate the accuracy of written reports and testimony, which is one of the significant benefits of deploying these devices.