Police Body Camera Policies: Recording Circumstances

This chart includes categories relating to when to record, including who wears the camera, circumstances when recording is required, officer discretion not to record, and whether notification of recording is required.

August 3, 2016

Last Updated: July 19, 2019

No department we looked at requires officers to have their body-worn cameras recording for the entire shift. This is due to both technological limitations and privacy concerns. As such, every policy must specify when the officer turns the camera on and off. This chart, in combination with the “Recording Exceptions” chart, outlines those circumstances.

“Who wears”: Some departments have provided BWCs to all of their officers. Among those that have fewer cameras, or that are in a pilot phase, some allow officers to volunteer for their program, while others assign cameras to officers based on high-crime districts or other factors. Some specify uniformed officers only, while others have plainclothes officers wear cameras as well.

“When to record,” “Notable omissions from required list,” and “When not required, does officer have discretion to record?” Most of the policies contain a list of types of law-enforcement encounters where recording is required. These categories do not include the full lists, but rather pull out notable features of each policy. A typical full list might include:

  1. All calls for service and while en-route to emergency calls.
  2. Pedestrian stops, including consensual encounters and “Terry stops” (a brief detention of a person by police on reasonable suspicion of involvement in criminal activity).
  3. Traffic stops.
  4. Foot and vehicle pursuits.
  5. Consensual or warrantless searches.
  6. Executing search warrants.
  7. Arrests and detentions.
  8. Transports (driving with a prisoner).
  9. Other adversarial encounters or situations where criminal activity is likely to be recorded.

If any of these key activities is missing from the list in a given policy, it will be noted in the “notable omission from required list” column. If the list includes a category such as “other circumstances when the officer believes recording would be appropriate” or the policy otherwise allows discretionary recording, it will be noted as a “yes” under “does officer have discretion to record in unspecified circumstances?” If there is a list of prohibited recording circumstances constraining this discretion, then it will be noted in the same column. If the prohibited recording pertains to witnesses or victims, privacy, or First Amendment activity, then it will instead be noted in our separate “Privacy and First Amendment Protections” chart.

“Notify person being recorded?”: Some departments require or encourage an officer with a BWC to inform members of the public that they are being recorded. There are two frequently-cited reasons for this approach. One is a concern for privacy. Another is the possibility that people will be less confrontational when they know they are being recorded. The counterarguments are that notification is inconvenient for the officer, and that a person in the presence of a police officer already has a low expectation of privacy and thus does not need to be explicitly notified they are being recorded as well.

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City  Who Wears When to Record Notable Omissions From Required List When Not Required, Does Officer Have Discretion to Record? Notify person being recorded?
Arlington, TX Authorized, uniformed personnel Calls for service and law enforcement-related activities, with a list of examples, including any confrontational encounter. Transports and executing search warrants Not specified  Yes
Atlanta Assigned officers: trained personnel, officers at the rank of sergeant and below, and officers at the rank of lieutenant or higher can opt out of wearing a BWC. Calls for service, supervisor requests and self-initiated calls with a list of examples, including victim and witness statements. Traffic stops, arrests and detentions, transports and other adversarial encounters or situations where criminal activity is likely to be recorded. No, but sworn officers can activate BWC anytime as instructed by their supervisors. Not specified
Austin Authorized, uniformed personnel During calls for service, when there is a likelihood of detaining or arresting a person, and consensual contact with a list of examples. Pedestrian stops and transports Yes, they may activate the system “anytime they believe its use would be appropriate and/or valuable to document an incident.” Yes, “officers should inform individuals they are being recorded unless doing so would be unsafe, impractical or impact the investigation of criminal activity.”

Baltimore

Assigned officers in units that primarily interact with citizens and/or carry out enforcement related activities (e.g. Patrol, SWAT, K-9 etc.) shall wear the BWC at all times. Officers in administrative units (e.g. ECU, RMS etc.) or investigative units (e.g. DDU, Homicide, Sex Offense etc.) are not required to wear the BWC at all times. Arrest officers assigned to Undercover Vice Units will wear the BWC with special care. “At the initiation of a call for service or other activity that is investigative or enforcement in nature,” and during any confrontational encounter, along with a list of other circumstances. None Yes, officers can record “in circumstances when they determine that doing so would be beneficial to the public interest.”

Yes, by stating the following: “Hello, I am Officer _____of the Baltimore Police Department. I am advising you that our interaction is being recorded.”

Boston

Assigned officers For law enforcement purposes where use is appropriate, with a list of examples, including all calls for service. None Yes, officer may record “civilian contact or official duty circumstance that the officer reasonably believes should be recorded in order to enhance policing transparency, increase public trust and police-community relations, or preserve factual representations of officer-civilian interactions…” Yes
Charlotte, NC Assigned officers Calls for service and interactions with citizens, with list of examples, including when recording is requested by a citizen.  Recording is stopped during non-enforcement activities such as “traffic control, criminal investigations, or when no adversarial events are ongoing.” Yes, except recording must stop during “non-enforcement activities” and officers shall not record “any person or conversation that is not involved in a call for service or event as outlined in this directive.” Not specified

Chicago

Assigned members with field duties Enumerated law enforcement activities, including “any other instance when enforcing the law,”, along with a list of circumstances that permit recording of non-law enforcement-related activities. None Yes, in situations that the member believes recording will serve a “proper police purpose.” Yes
Cincinnati Assigned officers During all calls for service and self-initiated activities, with a list of examples. Adversarial encounters Yes, if officer believes an even has “evidentiary value.” Officer discretion
Cleveland Assigned officers All calls for service, with a list of examples. Pedestrian stops and detentions Yes Encouraged
Dallas

Assigned officers

All contacts in an official law enforcement capacity. Policy enumerates examples, including while conducting a field sobriety test and while inventorying seized narcotics, money, or high value property. None Yes, anytime the officer “deems necessary.” Officer discretion, but must respond if subject of recording asks if they are being recorded.

 

Denver

 

All officers, including sergeants, corporals, technicians, all patrol officers, Metro/SWAT, the Gang Unit,  Districts, the Gang Unit, Traffic Operations and the Airport Division. Calls for service and “any officer initiated contacts involving actual or potential violations of the law,” with enumerated examples. Transports and search warrants

Yes, officer can record “any situation that the officer believes the use of the BWC would be appropriate or would provide valuable documentation if not already activated per policy.”

Encouraged
Ferguson Assigned officers and selected uniformed field assignments will be issued BWCs. Legitimate law enforcement purposes, with list of examples. Foot pursuits Yes Yes

Las Vegas

“All officers hired on or after July 1, 2013 are required to wear a BWC (based on assignment).” Others may volunteer. Enumerated law enforcement citizen contacts. None Yes, but outside of required circumstances officers should consider a citizen request to stop recording. Recordings of “informal, non-law enforcement related contacts with the public” are discouraged. Encouraged
Los Angeles Uniformed personnel Prior to initiating any investigative or law enforcement activities, including “crowd management.” None Not specified Notice encouraged but consent not required if officers are legally in area.

Mesa, AZ

Assigned uniformed officers Calls for service or any contact with the public; includes list of examples. Arrests, detainments, and adversarial encounters Yes Not specified

Minneapolis

Assigned officers All calls for service, self-initiated calls and other enumerated law enforcement encounters, which includes off-duty employment and any adversarial contact. None Yes, can record phone calls and other activity of evidentiary value.  Encouraged in general. If asked, an officer must inform those inquiring that BWC is recording, unless it would be unsafe to do so. 
New Orleans Most officers, uniformed or plainclothes. Enumerated law enforcement activities. Includes domestic violence calls, any adversarial contact and when likely to record actual or potential criminal conduct. Foot pursuits and executing search warrants Yes Not specified

New York

Selected uniformed officers Enumerated “investigative or enforcement actions,” calls for service, and interior patrols of Housing Authority and Trespass Affidavit Program buildings. Transports Yes, outside of prohibited recordings list which includes “off-duty activity, including paid details.” Yes
Oakland, CA All personnel with primarily field-based responsibilities and others as assigned. Enumerated law enforcement activities, including assessments for psychiatric detention. Explicitly not required to record taking a report when evidence indicates the suspect is not on scene Yes Not specified
Orlando Assigned officers when in uniform, including on law enforcement-related overtime details. Enumerated law enforcement activities.  Executing search warrants and transports Yes Not specified
Philadelphia Assigned uniformed officers Enumerated law enforcement activities, including all crimes in progress and contact with the public. Traffic stops, consensual and warrantless searches, executing search warrants and transports Yes, officer can record “when handling a situation or incident that the officer, through their training and experience, believes should be visually preserved.” Yes

Phoenix, AZ

Assigned officers All investigative or enforcement contacts, including list of examples.

Arrests, detentions, transports, search warrants and other adversarial encounters. Also, “users may deviate from the activation directive if it is in the best interest of the Department and they are able to justify the deviation.”

Yes. However, there is a list of prohibitions, including surreptitiously recording conversations of citizens and employees, and recording work in an off-duty capacity. Encouraged
Rialto, CA Assigned officers Required for enforcement encounters with reasonable suspicion and any other adversarial contact. The policy not intended to describe also possible circumstances. The only encounters that are explicitly mentioned are traffic stops and pedestrian checks Yes Encouraged
San Antonio Assigned uniformed officers, excluding honor guard uniformed officers Calls for service and officer-initiated contacts, with a list of examples. None No, any deviations from the listed examples require a supervisor’s approval and must be documented. Officer’s discretion
San Bernardino All department members All enforcement related contacts, with a list of examples, including interview, arrests, and detentions. Pedestrian stops, foot and vehicle pursuits, and transports Not specified Officer’s discretion; must notify if asked
San Diego Uniformed officers issued a BWC. Required for all enforcement related contacts, with list of examples. Foot and vehicle pursuits Unclear, but there is a long prohibited recording list, including “informal or casual encounters with members of the public.” Encouraged; must notify if asked 
San Francisco Assigned officers Enumerated law enforcement activities. None Yes, if officer can “articulate an exigent circumstance that required deviation from the normal rule in these situations.” Encouraged

San Jose

Assigned uniformed officers Enumerated police actions, including probation & parole supervision. None Yes, “personnel may activate the system any time they feel its use would be appropriate and/or valuable to document an incident.” Not required in general, but encouraged. Required during a consent search of a home.

Seattle

Assigned uniformed officers Enumerated law enforcement activities. Foot pursuits and consensual encounters Yes, unless otherwise prohibited, employees may record whenever beneficial to capture an event or activity. Yes
Tampa

Assigned officers – issued based on availability of equipment

Enumerated law enforcement activities. Pedestrian stops, consensual searches, search warrants and transports  Yes, can record any other law enforcement activity the officer feels could be beneficial.  Only for victims.
Tucson

Assigned officers

Calls for service, searches, and citizen contacts in an investigative or enforcement capacity, with enumerated examples. Pedestrian stops, foot and vehicle pursuits, search warrants and transports  Yes, can record work-related activity if they believe it will be beneficial to the department.  Encouraged. If asked, they must notify people of recording. 
Washington, D.C. Trained MPD employees who are on-duty and working in an official law enforcement capacity. List of events, including all calls-for-service, DUI and consumption of marijuana investigations, mental health consumer encounters, school-based events, inventorying seized money, hospital guard duty, and interacting with citizens inside a police facility. Do not turn off based on a citizen’s request. Explicitly not required to record non-investigatory contacts such as business checks. Unclear, but there is a prohibited recording list including outside employment. Yes. When practicable, members shall provide non-English proficient persons with a notice in the appropriate language (notice included in policy).
ACLU Model Statute “Only law enforcement officers with the authority to conduct searches and make arrests.” Calls for service and law enforcement or investigative encounters. N/A No Yes
International Association of Chiefs of Police  Uniformed personnel, preferably all of them. All contacts with citizens in the performance of official duties. N/A Not specified Yes
Police Executive Research Forum Policies should state which personnel wear cams. If voluntary, policy should state when it can be required. Only “law enforcement-related encounters and activities.” N/A Departments may choose to allow discretion in recording witnesses, people sharing information, situations where there are privacy concerns, and informal interactions. Yes