The State of Police Body Cameras
Legislatures in 18 states passed new body camera laws last year. Here’s what you need to know.
The use of body cameras by police departments nationwide has rapidly grown over the last few years. While these devices are commonly seen as simple solutions, a new report by the Urban Institute shows that many police departments struggle with establishing body camera programs.
Between passage laws, mandates and cost, the implementation of body cameras has become somewhat of an unexpected burden.
This past year, legislators realized that the issues around body camera use are more complex than they expected. Instead of immediately passing new body camera laws, many states are first establishing a pilot program or study group for body cameras before fully committing.
Another hurdle for police departments in certain cities is cost. $20 million dollars was allocated by the federal government in 2015 to fund body camera pilot programs.
However, there are hidden costs that can be overlooked. In Clarksville, Ind., the police department had to suspend its program after a new law passed stating agencies must retain body camera footage for at least 190 days, which would have cost as much as $100,000 annually.
Police departments that are able to afford and implement body cameras must then follow state legislation that dictates when the cameras can and cannot be turned on.
For example, in the District of Columbia, legislation states that officers may not record at a school when they are engaged in a “noncritical contact” or are mediating minor incidents involving students.
There has also been a shift of whether or not recorded footage can be released. In North Carolina, legislation was recently passed prohibiting the release of footage to the public, whereas in Oklahoma, legislation prescribes for the public release of body camera footage.
The Urban Institute has put together this interactive police body-worn camera legislation tracker that is updated periodically.
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