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Civil Rights

How do body cams work

By December 18, 2018April 2nd, 2024No Comments

You’ve probably heard the term body cameras thrown around in the media a lot as of late. Body cameras for police, known as officer body-worn cameras (BWCs) are exactly what they imply — small devices, worn by police officers, that record interactions between law enforcement and the public.

They’ve been growing in popularity ever since the high-profile killings of African-Americans, like Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, began making headlines in 2014.

Why are body cameras worn?

Body cameras are worn for a number of reasons, including:

  • To show a commitment of transparency from law enforcement agencies to the public
  • To record statements from witnesses and/or victims
  • To deter police misconduct (i.e. excessive force, unlawful arrest)
  • To deter the public from mistreating police officers
  • To deter the public from breaking the law — at least in front of police officers


How do body cams work?

Body cameras are worn on various places on the officer’s uniform, like the shoulder lapel, sunglasses or hat. The camera is facing forward, and often officers use additional equipment to make sure the camera is secure and able to function properly.

Different cameras have different options and user controls, like a push to record button, a playback in the field button, video and audio feed, and more. Most of them are very small, only about three inches long.

The costs also vary a lot. They can run between $129 and $900, depending on which one you choose.

When the camera is running, the video it records is uploaded through a server to a digital storage site to manage and preserve the video.


When are they used?

Body cameras typically aren’t on the entire time an officer is on duty. A lot of officers only turn them on when they are interacting with civilians or if they anticipate making an arrest or getting into a potentially dangerous situation.


Who controls the body camera footage?

Although body cameras, on the surface, are designed to help the public’s perception of transparency in law enforcement, it’s hard for the public to blindly trust body cameras because almost all the footage captured on body cameras is the property of the law enforcement agency that takes the video. A recent article from NPR points out that:

  • The videos are more often used as a tool in prosecuting crimes and making arrests rather than accountability for the public.
  • Police have never tried to use a third-party administrator to preserve the body camera footage.
  • Because body cameras are a relatively new policy for police, the rules and regulations are still evolving.

If you or someone you love were a victim of misconduct or wrongful arrest by a police officer, contact Jacqui Ford’s office today for help.