Police body-worn camera access nationwide

City Policies

  Although crafting open-record and right-to-know laws has largely been handled on the state level, decisions regarding whether to purchase body cameras, the number  of cameras to deploy, and implementation policies, are vested in various city and county legislative bodies. Of the fifteen major U.S. cities the Coalition surveyed,

  • Fourteen cities — including Boston, which had previously been staunchly opposed to the use of body cameras — have implemented pilot programs to test different body camera offerings and develop workable policies for wider implementation;[14]
  • Nine cities have approved large-scale purchases of body cameras, with procurements ranging from several hundred to more than four thousand cameras;[15] and
  • An additional two cities have budget requests for body cameras pending before their governing bodies.[16]

  Numerous cities — including Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Miami, Philadelphia and San Francisco — have issued guidelines regarding the collection and retention of body camera footage that are, particularly in comparison with many state laws, quite transparency friendly. Cities typically require retention for a period of 90 days, and can require retention for much longer depending on the nature of the recording. Although certain recordings are generally prohibited, including recordings (1) where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy; (2) where a confidential informant or undercover officer’s identity might be revealed; and (3) during personal conversations; collection is generally mandated by city guidelines in a wide range of situations, including:

  • Enforcement stops;
  • Arrival when on call for any service;
  • Pursuits (both vehicular and non-vehicular);
  • Arrival to crime scenes;
  • Execution of warrants or “knock and talk” operations;
  • Consensual searches;
  • Planned or anticipated arrests;
  • Inventorying of seized property;
  • Field sobriety tests; and
  • Whenever the officer’s training and experience causes him or her to believe the incident needs to be recorded to enhance reports, preserve evidence, or aid in subsequent court testimony.

  Decisions occurring at the local level are significant for three reasons.  First, many municipal proposals and policies are being developed and enacted at a much faster pace than their state counterparts.  Second, the interplay between local and state officials on this issue has created an environment where some cities have attempted to craft a model policy to anticipate and guide statewide debate. Finally, local-level policies appear to be more transparency minded than the majority of state-level laws. Although these state-level laws are likely to control the conversation going forward — particularly because most cities defer to state policies exempting police body camera footage from public access — local policies illustrate for transparency and accountability advocates a way forward when seeking greater access under state law.