STUDY: How Police Departments Are Really Using Body Cameras

By Kenrya Rankin Nov 05, 2015

Yesterday, anti-police violence advocacy group Campaign Zero released a report that details which police departments are currently using body cameras and how they are—or aren’t—creating an environment where accountability and transparency reign. 

It examines police department websites, city body camera guidelines, and local and state laws for the nation’s 30 largest cities based on 2012 population. Nine of the cities—Boston, Columbus, Detroit, El Paso, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Portland, San Antonio, and San Francisco—are not yet using body cameras. And Houston, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Nashville have them, but do not yet have written guidelines for using them.

The gathered data was used to answer the following five questions for Austin, Baltimore, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Fort Worth, Louisville, Los Angeles, Memphis, Milwaukee, New York City, Phoenix, San Diego, San Jose, Seattle and Washington, DC:

Coverage: What percent of the total police force is currently wearing body cameras?

Fairness: Are officers prohibited from viewing footage of critical incidents before making initial statements or reports, a common investigative practice used with civilians suspected of a crime?

Transparency: Can the public obtain footage of a deadly force incident once investigations have concluded without being subject to the police, the court’s or the Mayor’s discretion?

Privacy: Is footage deleted after six months or less if it does not depict use of force, detention, civilian complaint, or is determined to have evidentiary, exculpatory or training value?

Accountability: Are there clear guidelines for how officers who do not follow body camera policy should be disciplined? 

Notably, none of the evaluated cities scored a “yes” in all of the categories. Only San Jose’s body camera policy was found to be fair, Denver was the only locale to score points for accountability, and just seven cities met Campaign Zero’s requirements for transparency. Looking at cities that have been in the spotlight following deaths in police custody, Baltimore received its only positive score for transparency, while NYC struck out across the board.

View the full chart, including the methodology notes, on Campaign Zero’s site