January 6, 2024 

New PERF report examines how agencies are using body-worn cameras


PERF members, 

Happy new year! I hope you all had a chance to relax and spend time with family during the holidays.  

Ten years ago, when the DOJ asked PERF to develop guidelines for the implementation of body-worn camera programs, many chiefs and rank-and-file officers had trepidations about how body cameras would affect working conditions.

Those concerns have since greatly diminished, as we learned from a national meeting PERF convened in 2023 on the status of body camera programs. In fact, attendees universally agreed that cops find body cameras invaluable. Not many would have predicted that in 2013, but it tells me working cops see body cameras as the best way to document their actions. I think that is a positive development. This and other findings are featured in PERF’s new report, which takes a new look at body cameras ten years after they burst on the scene.

Among the innovations highlighted in the report is the use of body cameras as a performance management tool. For example, some agencies are using body camera footage to review critical incidents with an eye towards future improvement. And many agencies use routine audits of camera footage, conducted either by supervisors or by a dedicated unit, to ensure officers are complying with agency policy. 

The report also discusses several emerging issues with body cameras. One particularly interesting innovation is the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to review camera footage. Agencies collect far more body camera data than they can review, so some are exploring the use of AI to identify potentially concerning behavior in the hours and hours of camera footage. But there are justifiable privacy concerns from community members and officers themselves, so agencies should move deliberately as they examine potential uses of AI.  

One aspect of the report that has gotten a lot of attention is our focus on whether officers involved in a critical incident should review body camera footage before making their statement. In 2013, after listening to extensive debate on the issue, PERF made the controversial recommendation to allow officers to view the video prior to making a statement. But we are now recommending a hybrid model in which investigators first conduct a “perceptual” interview to understand the officer’s perceptions at the time of the incident. Investigators then show the involved officer the body camera video, after which they resume the interview to give the officer an opportunity to explain any discrepancies between the perceptual statement and what the video shows.  

Why have we changed our position? Well, we surveyed our members, and then we listened to many of them discuss their perspectives at our national and annual meetings. We also closely followed the case involving the Portland Police Bureau, where labor and management agreed to a similar hybrid model.

Is this a labor versus management issue? I don’t think so. In policing, perceptions matter. When officers arrive at a scene, they make decisions based on what they perceive. Differences between an officer’s perceptions and what the body camera captured should be expected.

Isn’t it like watching a football game, where the referee makes a call that is then reviewed? Slow motion video may show something that the referee didn’t see. This is the difference between making a split-second decision and then having the luxury of reviewing it in slow motion.

No one would accuse the referee of perjury for making the call they made, just as no one should accuse an officer of perjury merely because the officer’s perceptions differed from what is seen on the video. Both sources of information are important. As Dr. Lorie Fridell said at our national meeting, “In looking at potential discrepancies between the two, we recognize the fallibility of both sources. The discrepancy is not necessarily nefarious. It’s just a product of the limitations of the technology and the limitations of the human mind. But only one source can taint the other. The video can taint the memory of the officer, but not vice versa. So, for that reason, I think we conduct the initial interview to document the perception of the officer, then we introduce the video.”

Over the past few years, body-worn camera footage has helped agencies improve police practices and identify opportunities to improve interactions between officers and community members. Camera footage was crucial as we developed ICAT, and we use body-worn camera videos as part of the curriculum. By showing videos from real-life incidents, ICAT students can see what the responding officer saw and consider how they might respond to a similar situation. Using the information available to the officer at the time, students assess what the officer did well and how the response could have been improved. With body-worn cameras, police can learn from successes and failures to improve future performance.

Camera footage was particularly important when we developed the section on responding to “suicide by cop” incidents. We saw many videos in which an officer would approach an individual armed with a knife and repeatedly yell “Drop the knife!” as the individual yelled back “Shoot me!” Police psychologists and other experts helped us understand that these were incidents of “suicide by cop,” and we were able to develop guidance to help officers better respond in these situations. Without video, we wouldn’t have known to categorize these incidents differently and develop training specifically for these situations. We spoke about one such situation, involving an Oxnard, California police officer and a 17-year-old girl, at our National ICAT Conference last year. Video of that incident is now part of our ICAT curriculum. This is just one example of video footage improving policing.

I hope you take the time to review the report. I’d be interested to hear what you think about the issues it raises. 

Upcoming National ICAT Conference 

PERF’s 2nd Annual National ICAT Conference will take place Wednesday, February 7 and Thursday, February 8 in San Diego. At this meeting, ICAT trainers will discuss the latest updates to the training program, model fidelity, and lessons they’ve learned as they’ve implemented ICAT.  

We encourage agencies to send current ICAT instructors, training academy leaders, and/or agency leaders. Any officer who has received ICAT training will benefit, as we are continuously receiving new information that keeps this vital program updated. Recent changes to the training include the new modules “Suicide by Cop” and “Step Up and Step In.”  

Click here for more information and to register for the San Diego conference. 

For those who have not yet received ICAT training, PERF and the San Diego Police Department will host a no-cost, day-and-a-half train-the-trainer session on February 5-6. For more information about this session, click here

We also have space available in our ICAT train-the-trainer sessions on February 13-14, March 5-6, and March 7-8 at the National ICAT Training Center in Decatur, Illinois.