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Police Body Camera Policies: Privacy and First Amendment Protections

Some departments have special circumstances when officers are not supposed to record. This chart pulls out policies for witnesses & victims, areas with heightened expectation of privacy, First Amendment activity, and use of facial recognition technology.

Published: August 3, 2016

Last Updated: July 19, 2019

“Limits on Record­ing Witnesses and Victims,” “Limits on Record­ing Private Situ­ations,” and “Limits on Record­ing 1st Amend­ment Activ­ity”: Some policies include restric­tions on record­ing in circum­stances with greater poten­tial for abuse. It is valu­able for police to have record­ings of witness and victim state­ments, but record­ing also might make people reluct­ant to talk. A few policies restrict record­ing of First Amend­ment activ­ity, such as protests and reli­gious meet­ings, to avoid the possib­il­ity of target­ing people based on this activ­ity or creat­ing a chilling effect. Other policies, however, insist on record­ing it, often based on a history of police abuses at protests. Most have some mention of heightened privacy expect­a­tions in places such as restrooms and locker rooms, and some provide special rules for record­ing inside a private home.

“Limits on Facial Recog­ni­tion Tech­no­logy”: Facial recog­ni­tion tech­no­logy has the poten­tial to funda­ment­ally change the nature of how body-worn camera video can be used. Tech­no­logy that is either currently avail­able or under devel­op­ment would allow depart­ments to scan their data­bases of video foot­age for a partic­u­lar suspect, to keep a data­base of the loca­tions and move­ments of every­one they record, or to analyze video in real-time so an officer can identify suspects or pass­ers-by based on pictures in police records or online. This func­tion­al­ity could to help find suspects faster and augment police officers’ abil­ity to identify and remem­ber people they encounter. Privacy advoc­ates worry that combin­ing BWCs with facial recog­ni­tion could create an unpre­ced­en­ted level of intru­sion into private moments and every­day activ­it­ies, effect­ively elim­in­at­ing anonym­ity in public. Further­more, because indi­vidu­als may not always be correctly iden­ti­fied, people who simply look like the inten­ded target run the risk of being tracked or arres­ted. Due to these concerns, depart­ments may wish to set limits on the applic­a­tion of facial recog­ni­tion tech­no­logy to the BWC record­ings. So far, Baltimore’s is the only policy on our list to address this issue.

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City or Org Limits on Record­ing Witnesses & Victims Limits on Record­ing Private Situ­ations Limits on Record­ing 1st Amend­ment Activ­ity Limits on Facial Recog­ni­tion Tech­no­logy
Arling­ton, TX BWC shall not be used to record encoun­ters with confid­en­tial inform­ants. Officers should notify indi­vidu­als that they are being recor­ded when it is safe to do so. Record­ing should not be enacted in situ­ations where a reas­on­able amount of privacy is expec­ted, such as a resid­ence, unless the record­ing is made as part of an ongo­ing invest­ig­a­tion or to docu­ment police action during a call to service, a search warrant, an arrest or after an offense observed by the officer.  None None
Atlanta BWC shall be activ­ated to record state­ments made by suspects, victims or witnesses while inter­view­ing.  BWC shall not be activ­ated in dress­ing rooms, locker rooms and restrooms unless perform­ing legit­im­ate law enforce­ment action. Officers “should limit record­ing” of indi­vidu­als receiv­ing treat­ment in medical treat­ment envir­on­ments, and “[w]hen possible,” should refrain from record­ing exposed genit­als or sexu­ally sens­it­ive areas. None None
Austin Record­ing witness and victim inter­views is encour­aged to collect evid­ence. However, if a witness or victim is reluct­ant to make a state­ment on camera, the officer should use their own discre­tion to decide whether to deac­tiv­ate the BWC or keep it record­ing. Officers should inform indi­vidu­als they are being recor­ded unless it is imprac­tical, unsafe or will impact a crim­inal invest­ig­a­tion. BWC will not be activ­ated in public or private locker rooms, chan­ging rooms, restrooms, doctor’s or lawyer’s offices, medical or hospital facil­it­ies, schools where minor chil­dren are present and, in any magis­trate’s, or judge’s office or courtroom, unless taking police action. Officers will not activ­ate BWC to “monitor persons based solely upon the person’s polit­ical or reli­gious beliefs or upon the exer­cise of the person’s consti­tu­tional rights to free­dom of speech and reli­gious expres­sion, peti­tion, and assembly under the United States Consti­tu­tion, or because of the content or view­point of the person’s protec­ted speech.” None

Baltimore

An officer has discre­tion to stop record­ing if a victim, witness, or other person wishes to make a state­ment and requests on camera not to be recor­ded. BWC shall not be activ­ated inside a medical facil­ity until just prior to meet­ing with the victim on a call for service or when encoun­ter­ing an on-view incid­ent which would ordin­ar­ily require BWC activ­a­tion. Officers shall be aware of patients’ rights to privacy in hospital settings and shall not record during medical or psycho­lo­gical eval­u­ations or treat­ments. Officers shall avoid record­ing other people and medical docu­ments. Officers shall not activ­ate BWC to record court proceed­ings unless confront­ing a viol­ent suspect. While conduct­ing a strip search, officers shall ask the person being searched if they would like the camera to be deac­tiv­ated and shall act accord­ing to the person’s request. No limit on record­ing, but a record­ing of a “consti­tu­tion­ally protec­ted activ­ity” cannot be used to identify persons present unless they are suspec­ted of crim­inal activ­ity. BWC video “shall not be used to create a data­base or pool of mug shots,” “be used as fillers in photo arrays,” or “be searched using facial recog­ni­tion soft­ware.” This does not prohibit using recog­ni­tion soft­ware on the video of a “partic­u­lar incid­ent” when a super­visor “has reason to believe” a specific suspect is on the record­ing.

Boston

Officer has discre­tion to stop or continue record­ing when victim or witness is giving an account of a crime. If the victim is uncom­fort­able with the thought of being recor­ded, the officer shall inform the civil­ian that he or she may request to have the BWC turned off.  “Officers should be mind­ful of loca­tions where record­ing may be considered insens­it­ive or inap­pro­pri­ate” (i.e. locker rooms, places of worship, certain loca­tions in hospit­als, resid­ences etc. At such loca­tions, at the officer’s discre­tion and based on the circum­stances, the officer may turn off the BWC. In resid­ences, “officers shall be mind­ful not to record beyond what is neces­sary to the civil­ian contact.” “The record­ing of civil­ians based solely upon the civil­ian’s polit­ical or reli­gious beliefs or upon the exer­cise of the civil­ian’s consti­tu­tional rights to free­dom of speech and reli­gious expres­sion, consti­tu­tional peti­tion and assembly is prohib­ited. BWC foot­age shall not be reviewed to identify the pres­ence of indi­vidual parti­cipants at such events who are not engaged in unlaw­ful conduct.” BWC will not include facial recog­ni­tion tech­no­lo­gies.
Char­lotte, NC During consent searches, officers must record them­selves asking for consent to record as well as the citizen’s response.  Unless  “present in an offi­cial capa­city,” BWC will not be used in: “bath­rooms, locker rooms, or other places where there is an expect­a­tion of privacy,” in patient care areas, in court, in classrooms, or during discus­sions with attor­neys. Prior to conduct­ing a strip search, officer must verbally record the reason for turn­ing the BWC on and record a 360-degree video of the loca­tion where the search will be executed. If a citizen with­draws consent for record­ing during a consent search in a “non-public” place, the officer shall stop record­ing and continue as normal without record­ing.  None None

Chicago

Must stop record­ing if a victim or witness requests not to be recor­ded, unless exigent circum­stances exist or officer has reas­on­able artic­ul­able suspi­cion that a victim or witness has commit­ted a crime. BWC shall not be activ­ated to record indi­vidu­als in resid­ences or private areas unless there is a crime in progress or other circum­stances that would allow the officer to be lawfully present without a warrant. No record­ing inside medical facil­it­ies, except when directly relev­ant and neces­sary to an invest­ig­a­tion. No record­ing of appear­ances at court or hear­ings. No record­ing of strip searches. None None
Cincin­nati

Officers are not required to initi­ate or cease record­ing an event solely at the request of a citizen. Officers are not required to inform citizens they are being recor­ded since the contact between an office and an indi­vidual does not consti­tute an envir­on­ment where there is a “reas­on­able expect­a­tion of privacy.”

Officers may use BWC inside a private home “as long as they have a legal right to be there (e.g., call for service, valid search warrant, consent of owner)”. Officers shall not record in any place where there is a “reas­on­able expect­a­tion of privacy”, such as a restroom, locker room, deten­tion facil­ity, or hospital facil­ity, except during an active incid­ent. BWC foot­age contain­ing sens­it­ive or private situ­ations (e.g. inter­view of a victim of sexual assault; indi­vidual who is partially or completely unclothed) will be redac­ted.

None BWC foot­age shall not “be used to create a data­base or pool of mug shots” or “be searched using facial recog­ni­tion soft­ware”. This does not prohibit the use of facial recog­ni­tion soft­ware to analyze a record­ing of an incid­ent where there is “reas­on­able suspi­cion” that a suspect (or person in need of assist­ance) may be a subject of a partic­u­lar record­ing.
Clev­e­land Can get permis­sion to stop record­ing from super­visor if witness or victim, includ­ing juven­iles and victims of sexual assault, refuses to be recor­ded. Must include victim’s request to turn WCS off in the record­ing. No record­ing in private homes and build­ings without consent or a warrant or any place with reas­on­able expect­a­tion of privacy (i.e. restrooms, dress­ing rooms).  None None
Dallas Officer is not required to obtain consent from a private person when in a public place or in a loca­tion where there is no “reas­on­able expect­a­tion of privacy”. Officer has discre­tion to decide whether to inform person that they are being recor­ded. If the person asks whether they are being recor­ded, officer shall inform the person of the active BWC. No record­ing in places “where indi­vidu­als have an expect­a­tion of privacy, such as bath­rooms or locker rooms” unless needed for evid­ence; limited use in medical setting. But “[w]hen in a private resid­ence in an offi­cial capa­city, officers are not required to advise the resid­ent they are record­ing.” Protests are defined as a “law enforce­ment activ­ity” and must be recor­ded.  None

Denver

Officer can stop record­ing if a victim or witness requests not to be recor­ded. In places with reas­on­able expect­a­tion of privacy such as locker-rooms, restrooms, or patient-care areas, only offi­cial law enforce­ment activ­ity should be recor­ded. For strip searches, officers should only capture audio, not video. Officers will not activ­ate BWC on grounds of public, private, or paro­chial element­ary, middle or high school, unless required by policy. None None
Ferguson Officer may deac­tiv­ate BWC to respect the dignity of the victim or witness when nude or sens­it­ive areas are exposed. If active BWC limits or impedes the cooper­a­tion of victim or witness, officer may deac­tiv­ate BWC after receiv­ing author­iz­a­tion from a super­visor. “Places where a heightened expect­a­tion of privacy exists, such as public restrooms, jails, or hospit­als, unless for direct law enforce­ment purpose such as a crime in progress or the record­ing of the loca­tion is mater­ial to a crim­inal invest­ig­a­tion.” “People who are lawfully exer­cising their free­dom of speech, press, asso­ci­ation, assembly, reli­gion, or the right to peti­tion the govern­ment for redress of griev­ances.” None
Jack­son­ville There is no require­ment that the officer discon­tinue use of BWC upon indi­vidu­al’s request. However, officer shall inform victim of sexual assault that they are being recor­ded and provide the option to not be recor­ded.

“If an Officer is lawfully present (e.g. arrest warrant, search warrant, crim­inal invest­ig­a­tion, excep­tion to the warrant require­ment) at a loca­tion where a person has a reas­on­able expect­a­tion of privacy (e.g. resid­ence, restroom, dress­ing room, locker room, hospital, or mental health facil­ity), there is no require­ment that the Officer inform the person that video is being taken. Addi­tion­ally, there is no require­ment that the Officer discon­tinue use of the BWC upon an indi­vidu­al’s request.” However, if an officer is invited into a loca­tion where a person has a reas­on­able expect­a­tion of privacy, and the Officer has no lawful right to occupy that space, the officer must inform the person that they are being recor­ded and the person can request deac­tiv­a­tion of the BWC.

Officers may record protests, but they shall not record First Amend­ment assem­blies for the purpose of "identi­fy­ing and record­ing the pres­ence of indi­vidual parti­cipants who are not engaged in unlaw­ful conduct.” BWCs will not be used to record partic­u­lar indi­vidu­als based on race, color, gender, reli­gion, national origin, sexual orient­a­tion etc.

None

 

Las Vegas

 

May record initial state­ments but use discre­tion. In the case of sexual assault & other sens­it­ive crimes, expli­cit recor­ded permis­sion from the victim is required. Record­ing juven­ile victims & witnesses requires parental permis­sion. No record­ing in “places where a reas­on­able expect­a­tion of privacy exists, such as locker rooms, dress­ing rooms or restrooms.” In other places where record­ing may be inap­pro­pri­ate, such as places of worship, hospit­als, law offices, and day care facil­it­ies, officers have discre­tion to stop record­ing. When an officer’s legal basis for a resid­ence search is based solely on consent, officer is required to advise and obtain consent to record. None None
Los Angeles An officer has discre­tion to stop record­ing if a victim or witness refuses to provide a recor­ded state­ment.  Not required to record if record­ing would inter­fere with invest­ig­a­tion or be inap­pro­pri­ate because of “victim or witness’s phys­ical condi­tion, emotional state, age, or other sens­it­ive circum­stances,” or in health­care facil­it­ies unless an enforce­ment action is taken.   None None

Mesa, AZ

An officer has discre­tion to stop record­ing if a victim requests not to be recor­ded. No record­ing in “places where a reas­on­able expect­a­tion of privacy exists, such as dress­ing rooms or restrooms, unless during an active law enforce­ment invest­ig­a­tion.” None None

Minneapolis

Officer’s discre­tion. Officer should attempt to gain consent from victim or witness to record state­ment. BWC may be turned off inside centers for domestic or sexual viol­ence victim advocacy or assist­ance, if there is no inter­ac­tion with a suspect. BWC shall be turned off for court-room proceed­ings, depos­itions or any similar legal proceed­ing. Strip searches must be recor­ded with camera posi­tioned to collect audio data only.   No record­ing “solely for the purpose of surveil­lance of, or iden­ti­fic­a­tion of indi­vidu­als engaged in consti­tu­tion­ally protec­ted activ­it­ies conduc­ted in a lawful manner.” None
New Orleans An officer may stop record­ing with super­visor author­iz­a­tion if the officer believes record­ing would limit the cooper­a­tion of a victim or witness. At a medical facil­ity, restrict record­ing in accord­ance with facil­ity privacy proto­cols. No record­ing in places “where an employee has a reas­on­able expect­a­tion of privacy, such as locker rooms, dress­ing rooms or restrooms” unless a crime took place there, in which case avoid “record­ing videos of persons who are nude or when sens­it­ive areas are exposed.” None None

New York  

No record­ing a victim of a sex crime. Officers may deac­tiv­ate the BWC “upon the request of a member of the public if a suspect is not present,” keep­ing in mind reas­ons of privacy and confid­en­ti­al­ity. No record­ing of strip searches, the inside of a medical facil­ity or the proceed­ings of court. Officer shall not record protests, demon­stra­tions or polit­ical events, since the Tech­nical Assist­ance and Response Unit (TARU) is respons­ible for docu­ment­ing such incid­ents. However, if these public inter­ac­tions “escal­ate and become adversarial” officer may activ­ate BWC. None
Oakland, CA No record­ing state­ments from child abuse or sexual assault victims. Consent required to record other victims and witnesses.    Can deac­tiv­ate record­ing at a hospital if record­ing may comprom­ise patient confid­en­ti­al­ity. No record­ing “at Depart­ment facil­it­ies where a reas­on­able expect­a­tion of privacy exists (e.g., bath­rooms, locker rooms, showers)” unless required by policy. No, though Incid­ent Commander can give special orders during crowd control, protest, or mass arrest incid­ents. None
Orlando An officer has discre­tion to stop record­ing if a victim, witness, or community member requests not to be recor­ded, as long as suspect is not present.  No record­ing in “places where a reas­on­able expect­a­tion of privacy exists, such as, but not limited to, locker rooms, dress­ing room, or restrooms” unless part of offi­cial law enforce­ment incid­ent. None None
Phil­adelphia Officer’s discre­tion. Officer must “balance the value of obtain­ing a record­ing with the reluct­ance of a victim, witness or inform­ant to provide inform­a­tion while being recor­ded.” Officer shall deac­tiv­ate BWC when record­ing would “capture grue­some images, persons nude that are not involved in crim­inal activ­ity or when private areas of the human body are exposed”. No record­ing in indi­vidu­als’ resid­ences, reli­gious insti­tu­tions during services or hospital rooms and private patient areas in a hospital. None None

Phoenix, AZ

Officer’s discre­tion. Officer may deac­tiv­ate BWC if it is “in the best interest of the Depart­ment and they are able to justify the devi­ation: for example, contact with victims of a crime where the details of the crime are sens­it­ive in nature or inter­ac­tion with citizens who wish to remain anonym­ous.” No record­ing in “a place where a reas­on­able expect­a­tion of privacy exists, such as dress­ing rooms, precinct locker rooms, and restrooms.” None None
Rialto, CA None No record­ing in places “where a reas­on­able expect­a­tion of privacy exists,” like locker rooms, dress­ing rooms, or restrooms. Officers should use discre­tion in determ­in­ing whether or not to record in medical settings, court­houses, indi­vidual resid­ences, and during inter­views when the use of a camera causes emotional distress, such as inter­views of rape victims. None None
San Anto­nio None No record­ing in private areas such as restrooms and locker rooms, along with patient care areas of medical and mental health facil­it­ies, court facil­it­ies and secured govern­mental facil­it­ies, and any legal proceed­ings, such as depos­itions and city coun­cil meet­ings. None None
San Bern­ardino Victim and witness inter­views should always be recor­ded. Domestic viol­ence victims must also be recor­ded unless a domestic viol­ence victim expressly refuses to be recor­ded. No record­ing in a private resid­ence unless officer is lawfully present due to a warrant, consent or exigent circum­stances. No record­ing in locker rooms, dress­ing rooms, or restrooms. No record­ing of exposed areas of the body. No record­ing of patients during medical and psycho­lo­gical eval­u­ations. No record­ing inside jail facil­it­ies. Officer should refrain from record­ing peace­ful demon­stra­tions unless there is reason to believe the event has the poten­tial for unlaw­ful activ­ity. None
San Diego Gener­ally, do not record witnesses and victims. However, officer may record domestic viol­ence victims with seri­ous injur­ies and their chil­dren. No record­ing in places like locker rooms, dress­ing rooms, or restrooms, or in medical or jail facil­it­ies unless use of force is likely. Can record in homes without consent or notice if there is a lawful reason for pres­ence of officers, includ­ing consent searches. Gener­ally, “refrain from video record­ing or photo­graph­ing peace­ful demon­stra­tions.” None

San Jose

Must stop record­ing if a victim or witness requests not to be recor­ded. No record­ing in “public or private locker rooms, chan­ging rooms, restrooms,” “doctor’s or lawyer’s offices,” “medical or hospital facil­it­ies,” or “other places where indi­vidu­als unre­lated to the invest­ig­a­tion are present and would have a reas­on­able expect­a­tion of privacy” unless the officer is taking a listed police action. When an officer’s legal basis for a resid­ence search is based solely on consent, the officer is required to advise and obtain consent to record. Record­ing someone based solely on First Amend­ment activ­ity is prohib­ited. None

Seattle

None No record­ing in places with heightened expect­a­tion of privacy, such as restrooms, jails, and the interi­ors of medical, mental health, coun­sel­ing, or thera­peutic facil­it­ies unless for a direct law enforce­ment purpose. Consent required for homes unless circum­stances exist that allow officer to be lawfully present without a warrant. Unless there is reas­on­able suspi­cion to believe crim­inal activ­ity is occur­ring, officers may not record people exer­cising their First Amend­ment rights. None
Tampa Must stop record­ing if a victim requests not to be recor­ded and victims should be noti­fied that inter­views are recor­ded unless they object. BWCs shall not “be used to record any personal activ­ity.” None None
Tucson An officer has discre­tion to stop record­ing if a victim requests not to be recor­ded. No record­ing “in places where privacy would be expec­ted, such as locker/dress­ing rooms or restrooms, except in the offi­cial perform­ance of a law enforce­ment func­tion.” None None
Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Citizens can request camera be turned off to provide an anonym­ous tip. If respond­ing to an intra­fam­ily event, officers are to avoid record­ing discus­sions between the On-Call Advocacy Program and the victim, and to posi­tion them­selves “as to afford the victim as much privacy as possible.” No record­ing “on private space unless present for a lawful purpose,” no record­ing “gratu­it­ous or obscene images, such as the effects of extreme viol­ence or imagery” except as needed for evid­ence, and no record­ing “in places where a reas­on­able expect­a­tion of privacy exists, such as locker rooms or restrooms.” No record­ing patients during medical or psycho­lo­gical treat­ment unless engaged in police action; when record­ing in medical facil­it­ies, avoid record­ing anyone but suspect, complain­ant, and witnesses. DC law prohib­its record­ing at primary or second­ary schools or while engaged in “non-crit­ical contacts with students.” Officers are to record First Amend­ment assembly, but not “for the purpose of identi­fy­ing and record­ing the pres­ence of” law-abid­ing parti­cipants. Record­ings are kept for 3 years (versus 90-day default for other record­ings). Officers shall not record a partic­u­lar person based on member­ship in a listed protec­ted class (e.g. race, reli­gion, polit­ical affil­i­ation). None
ACLU Model Stat­ute Must stop record­ing at the request of a victim or person seek­ing to anonym­ously report a crime. Prior to enter­ing a home without a warrant or in non-exigent circum­stances, officer must ask if the occu­pant wants the officer to stop record­ing; if occu­pant so requests, camera must be turned off. No record­ing at schools except when respond­ing to immin­ent threat to life or health. “Body cameras shall not be used to gather intel­li­gence inform­a­tion based on First Amend­ment protec­ted speech, asso­ci­ations, or reli­gion.” Video not marked for a minimum 3 years of reten­tion shall not “be subjec­ted to facial recog­ni­tion or any other form of auto­mated analysis or analyt­ics of any kind,” unless a judi­cial warrant is obtained or the author­iz­ing court finds prob­able cause to believe the foot­age contains evid­ence relat­ing to an ongo­ing crim­inal invest­ig­a­tion. No limits on facial recog­ni­tion specified for other video.
Inter­na­tional Asso­ci­ation of Chiefs of Police Policies should offer some discre­tion for sens­it­ive situ­ations. Officers should not record in “any loca­tion where indi­vidu­als have a reas­on­able expect­a­tion of privacy, such as a restroom or locker room.” In a resid­ence, indi­vidu­als may decline to be recor­ded unless the record­ing is being made pursu­ant to an arrest or search. None None
Police Exec­ut­ive Research Forum  Obtain consent before record­ing. Include a consid­er­a­tion for places with heightened expect­a­tion of privacy. None None