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How Police Body Worn Camera Policies Can Be 'Victim Sensitive'



Body-worn cameras (BWCs) are a fairly new policing technology that agencies throughout the U.S. use to document police and community interactions. There is strong support for BWC use on

both the law enforcement and public sides. However there is little guidance with how BWCs should be

used in relations to victims of crime, especially victims who have experienced sexual or domestic

violence.


An article in Criminology & Public Policy provides five guiding principles on how law enforcement agencies should craft their BWC policies to be victim sensitive. These guidelines enhance survivor-police relations and work to resolve concerns survivors may have of being recorded after a traumatic experience.


Using qualitative interviews with 33 survivors of sexual and/or domestic violence, the authors found

that almost all survivors believed that officers should provide notification of BWC use as soon as possible

during an interaction. This declaration assisted victims feeling empowered and lessened the

power imbalance between officer and victim.


There were mixed reactions on whether officers should get consent from the victim prior to the use of BWC, but but the majority favored consent being requested. The favoring of consent was highlighted by

the survivors' need to gain some form of control in the interaction and not feel pressured.


Participants who did not feel the need to provide consent to officers believed that it was important for the

interaction to be recorded and that BWC was part of the officers uniform.


Participants stressed that the best course of action for officers working with survivors of crime was to

deactivate their BWCs completely. While there was no alternative option provided, many suggested that officers only use the audio recording portion of the BWC or divert the camera away from the survivor if the BWC must be used.


Many participants highlighted the importance of privacy, considering there might be children or homes documented in the BWC recording.


The authors recommend that law enforcement agencies establish consistent procedures regarding

BWC use so that survivors and community members know what is expected. The recordings should

be occasionally reviewed by supervisors to ensure that excellent service is provided and

unacceptable performances are worked on.


This also gives the agency an opportunity to provide real-life scenario training through the use of BWC recordings.


The final guiding principle includes providing survivors with a summary of how the recordings are

stored and who has access to them. The study suggests that survivor apprised of this knowledge can make informed decisions and may feel more comfortable reporting the incident.


It is still unclear if using victim sensitive guidelines for BWCs will affect a survivor’s decision to report, but evidence suggests that it will affect a survivor's experience within the criminal justice system. Further research can work to ensure victims are treated with dignity and policies are put in place to protect their rights.

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