In 2017, APLU issued a policy brief on police body-worn cameras, outlining important issues for institutions to consider when looking to implement the use of body-worn police cameras. As campuses review and contemplate revising their policing policies, the brief finds the use of such cameras provide clear benefits of increased transparency and accountability along with improved community relations. The report also notes other considerations such as costs and policies for use and storage of footage. The brief is aimed at providing strategies for increasing accountability and transparency for police and community members while building healthier and more inclusive communities.
While there hasn’t been research reported on the effectiveness of body-worn cameras (BWCs) specifically on college campuses, findings from surveys of municipal police departments show that BWCs can reduce the use of excessive force within office/citizen interactions. One study found that complaints against officers dropped 90 percent with the use of BWCs (0.7 complaints per 1,000 contacts down to 0.07 complaints per 1,000 contacts). With more police departments utilizing BWCs, research has also shown that officers find the cameras indispensable to their work, noting that the unbiased third-party account of a BWC can help resolve divisive issues within communities.
APLU’s report found that the costs associated with use of BWCs range widely depending on the features of the device, specifically functionality, battery life, and storage capacity. While such devices currently range from $120 to $2,000; the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) found that most police agencies prefer cameras that range in price from $800 to $1,200. This upfront investment is not usually the largest cost consideration; rather, data storage is commonly reported as the largest cost factor. While costs for storage can vary widely, some agencies have noted that video storage for 50 full-time officers’ recordings for one month can range between $5,000 and $10,000. State laws differ on how long police departments need to store BWC footage.
The association notes that it is essential for all campus police departments that use BWCs to have clear guidelines and policies for BWC use and that such policies should be regularly reviewed and updated. The APLU report cites a series of principles police departments should adopt per a 2014 recommendation from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, including: having clear policies for use in writing; ensuring privacy and data quality; regular evaluations of the BWC program; and public transparency and notice about the use of cameras.