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New Study: No Uniform Standard for Police Body-Worn Camera Programs

A recent study found that almost all police departments plan to use body cameras in the near future but many questions about their application remain.

February 5, 2016

After a two-year period characterized by high profile, often tragic police-civilian encounters, many advocates – and police departments – have embraced police body-worn cameras as a tool to increase police accountability while providing proof of police perspective in tense situations. A January survey by Governing magazine found that almost all police departments plan to use body cameras in the near future. But many questions about their application remain.

In a new interactive map, the Brennan Center looked at 24 major American cities that have implemented these programs, and found great variance in how local departments address privacy, transparency, and accountability challenges. These include:

  • Public Access to Records: Some states have public records laws that specifically address body cameras. In other states, some cities leave public access at the discretion of police departments, while others release records in most cases. Many cities still do not have firm policies.
  • Time non-evidentiary video kept: Since preserving and maintaining video is expensive, some cities keep video not related to a crime for as little as 45 days, while others preserve it for years. Some jurisdictions still do not specify.
  • Limits on recording victims, witnesses, or private situations: This is one of the areas of greatest concern to civil liberties advocates. Some cities, including Ferguson, Mo., have no limits at all. Others require officers to stop recording upon request, while a few require consent if filming inside a private home.
  • Ability of officer to view video before making a report or statement: No city has a complete prohibition, while many guarantee officer access in all cases. Others allow viewing for reports, but not statements, and some do not have clear policies.

“Everyone agrees that it is important to have clear rules in place that tell officers when to record and to specify what will happen to the video,” said Rachel Levinson-Waldman, senior counsel in the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program. “This project is intended to help foster and inform that discussion, as an increasing number of major cities adopt or expand body camera programs.”

The project also includes charts on privacy and first amendment protections, accountability, and more, comparing the cities’ policies across a number of categories. View the full project on police body-worn cameras here.

Read a blog post explaining the findings.

For more information or to schedule an interview, contact Naren Daniel at (646) 292–8381 or