June 2015 Warning Bells article

Body Warn Video Policy Issued by Department

Around 800 body cameras are going to hit the streets shortly. Seven thousand more are on the way. On April 28, 2015, the Police Commission approved and the Department issued the body worn video (BWV) policy, officially called “Special Order 12, Body Worn Video Procedures-Established.” There was a lot of debate and some confusion about what some of the language in the policy meant. So, what does it say and how is it different from the DICV policy?

The policy is functionally the same as the Digital In Car Video system (DICV), but because this is a different technology, there are some additional rules. For instance, the DICV policy did not have to address privacy because the black and white seldom drove inside a house or went into a bathroom (I wish I could say never, but there have been some spectacular TCs). That being said, one important thing remains the same as the DICV policy; you get to see your video before you are interviewed in a use of force. Period. Let me go through the basics of the new order.


The Department lists the reasons that they are implementing the use of the BWV as collecting evidence for criminal prosecutions, deter criminal activity and uncooperative behavior during public contacts, promote accountability, assist in resolving complaints and provide information for officer improvement. Significantly, the Department recognizes the limitations of video by stating, “Body Worn Video recordings, however, provide a limited perspective of the encounter and must be considered with all other available evidence, such as witness statements, officer interviews, forensic analyses and documentary evidence, when evaluating the appropriateness of an
officer’s actions.”

When to turn it on

Pay attention to this section because failing to activate will be a sore spot with the Department. Ask the DICV officers. Many a 1.28 was filed over this issue. There are 12 specific activities mentioned in the special order and you should study them closely. Boiled down, you must activate it during any enforcement action involving a citizen and throw in anytime you are rolling Code 3. Yes, that means that pursuits will have three cameras running in each car if you have a DICV equipped vehicle.

When to turn it off

This will be the second sore point with the Department, turning it off too soon. Remember the underlying reason that body cameras are being nationally pushed is because of clashes between the police and members of the public. To that end, the policy focuses on that underlying reason by saying “The BWV shall continue recording until the investigative or enforcement activity involving a member of the public has ended. If enforcement or investigative activity with a member of the public resumes, the officer shall activate the BWV device and continue recording.” My advice is to err on the side of more video rather than less.

When not to turn it on

If you have a victim, or witness, that refuses to talk to you if the camera is running, you can turn it off. Get the refusal on video, however, before you do. If, in your judgment, the camera will interfere with your investigation, or would be inappropriate, you may turn it off. This would be because of injuries, a witness’s emotional state, age, or the sensitivity of the circumstances, such as rape, or incest investigations, etc. You may also turn it off to protect the identity of a confidential or citizen informant or to protect the identity of an undercover officer. Finally, if you are in a health care facility, you should turn it off unless you are taking enforcement action. Hospitals, rape treatment centers and such are clothed in multiple layers of privacy concerns.

No YouTube

Unauthorized use or release of any video is a violation of Department policy. That includes using your iPhone to record the video. The video has the same rules as other Department records, reports and documentation. Don’t share. See manual section 3/405.

Public notice

You are encouraged to tell members of the public that you are recording them, but it is not required. As long as you are lawfully in a place you do not need consent to record. You also are not required to play back video footage at the demand of a civilian.

No recording the sergeant

Or anyone else when you are not engaging in enforcement or investigative activities with a member of the public. That means no recordings of briefings, meetings, roll calls, or when in private spaces such as locker rooms and restrooms.

Categorical use of force

Pay attention here because there are some extra steps, but know that you will get to view your BWV before you are interviewed by Force Investigation Division. First, when the enforcement action with the member of the public has ended, turn it off! Do not record the public safety statement, the walk-through, or anything else after the action with the member of the public has ended. Second, do not view it until FID authorizes it (which will be before you are interviewed). Third, give your BWV unit to the responding supervisor, who, by the way, also cannot view it. Fourth, chill out with Sergeant Babysitter until your League attorney arrives. Fifth, view the video with your League attorney and preceed with the rest of the FID investigation.

Non-categorical use of force

This is simpler. “Supervisors investigating Non-Categorical Use of Force incidents shall, when available, allow involved officers to review their BWV recordings and, if deemed necessary, review other BWV recordings to ensure complete and accurate reports and documentation of the incident.” Note that “complete and accurate reports” is the operative language here. Make sure you view all the videos needed to make that report accurate. Six months from now when you testify, wrong reports, or testimony based on wrong reports, can be considered crimes.

Bottom line

The body worn video camera can be a great tool. Your gun is also a great tool. It is vital for your defense, but you can also shoot yourself in the foot. The key to both is proficiency. Read Special Order 12 and know it backward and forward just as you know when and how to use your weapon. One can save your life and the other can save your job.

Be legally careful out there.

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