Police and Body Cameras: Will Cameras Reduce Claims and Increase Transparency?


1600 hours: After briefing, the officer starts her shift. She straps on a body camera. But what next? Can the officer activate or deactivate the recording? Can the footage be deleted during her shift? What if the suspect, the public, the media or attorneys request copies of the video footage? How soon is too soon to request copies of the footage?

Following the recent trend of many public safety departments throughout California, the Fresno Police Department plans to purchase 100 on-body cameras for its police officers, as reported in two articles in The Fresno Bee (July 31 article and August 1 article). With a department of over 700 officers, this means less than 15% of officers will be equipped with the body cameras. The department reports the camera will be issued to officers on a voluntary basis or to probationary officers. “Body cameras are an excellent resource for law enforcement, allowing us to take advantage of this technology to build trust within the community,” said Fresno PD Deputy Chief Pat Farmer.

Of course, officers should be aware that as they record suspects and members of the public during a volatile or violent confrontation, they are being recorded too.

0030 hours: The officer wearing a body camera will be faced with a volatile situation. She has to make a split second decision…to record or not to record. That single decision to turn the record button to “on” can change everything.

0200 hours: The officer reports back to the station after a long and action-packed night with  video footage on the camera. Can she decide what footage to download or what to delete? How long will the downloaded video be preserved? Where will it be stored?

Public safety departments will face these and many other issues, including privacy concerns, as body cameras become the norm. One thing is certain: footage of officers and suspects or members of the public who file claims alleging force or other constitutional violations can prove to be critical if a lawsuit is filed. Footage can help evaluate a claim, dispute allegations, support defenses available to the officer if the matter proceeds to trial and, most importantly, increase transparency. So many questions. So much to consider…but, in the meantime, the record button is on.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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