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Draft Recommendation: Body Worn Cameras

Presentation to the Task Force

The Community Policing Subcommittee presented this draft recommendation to the Community and Law Enforcement Task on Monday, April 13, 2014. 

Meeting Agenda and Details


Community policing subcommittee found it necessary to include a recommendation on a policy for Body-Worn Cameras.  The use of deadly force by the Sheriff's Office/Law Enforcement Agencies is of deep concern to many of the communities they serve.  In several instances over the past decade, events where deadly force has been used have had a deep eroding effect on the trust between communities and law enforcement. The County of Sonoma has recently purchased Body Worn Cameras for the Sheriff's Office.   It is recommended that the Sheriff's Office and Law Enforcement Agencies have a policy on the use of use Body Worn Cameras.  The policy should ensure transparency and have safeguards in place that provides a check and balance.

Brief Overview of Process

CP reviewed several law enforcement agencies that have implemented the use of body worn cameras.  The use of this technology has the potential of a win-win, helping protect the public against police misconduct, and promoting law enforcement accountability.


It is recommended that the SO and Law Enforcement Agencies have a policy on the use of use Body Worn Cameras. The policy should ensure transparency and have safeguards in place that provides a check and balance. Elements of the policy shall include the following;

Activation of the audio/video recorder

  1. Sworn personnel are required to activate the AVR at the scene of all calls for service and during all law enforcement-related encounters/activities that occur while on duty. The AVR must also be activated during the course of any interaction with the public that becomes adversarial after the initial contact.
  2. If the video recorder is not activated, the officer shall put reason in writing within 24 hours.

Notice to citizens

  1. Recording should be limited to uniformed officers and marked vehicles, so people know what to expect. An exception should be made for SWAT raids and similar planned uses of force when they involve non-uniformed officers
  2. Officers should be required, wherever practicable, to notify people that they are being recorded by officers wearing an easily visible pin or sticker saying "lapel camera in operation" or words to that effect.
  3. Body Worn cameras will not be used to surreptitiously gather intelligence information based on First Amendment protected speech, associations, or religion.

Recording in the home

Because of the uniquely intrusive nature of police recordings made inside private homes, officers should be required to provide clear notice of a camera when entering a home, except in circumstances such as an emergency or a raid.

The policy shall include officers asking residents whether they wish for a camera to be turned off before they enter a home in non-exigent circumstances. (Citizen requests for cameras to be turned off should themselves be recorded to document such requests.) Cameras should never be turned off in SWAT raids and similar police actions.


Data should be retained no longer than necessary for the purpose for which it was collected. For the vast majority of police encounters with the public, there is no reason to preserve video evidence, and those recordings therefore should be deleted relatively quickly.

  • Retention periods should be measured in weeks not years, and video should be deleted after that period unless a recording has been flagged. Once a recording has been flagged, it would then switch to a longer retention schedule (such as the three-year period).
  • The policy should be posted online on the department's website, so that people who have encounters with police know how long they have to file a complaint or request access to footage.
  • Flagging should occur automatically for any incident:
    • involving a use of force;
    • that leads to detention or arrest; or
    • where either a formal or informal complaint has been registered.
  • Any subject of a recording should be able to flag a recording, even if not filing a complaint or opening an investigation.
  • The department (including internal investigations and supervisors) and third parties should also be able to flag an incident if they have some basis to believe police misconduct has occurred or have reasonable suspicion that the video contains evidence of a crime.
  • If any useful evidence is obtained during an authorized use of a recording (see below), the recording would then be retained in the same manner as any other evidence gathered during an investigation.
  • Back-end systems to manage video data must be configured to retain the data, delete it after the retention period expires, prevent deletion by individual officers, and provide an unimpeachable audit trail to protect chain of custody, just as with any evidence.

Use of Recordings

The purpose of the BWC is for police accountability and oversight. The policy shall not allow for any kind of systematic surveillance or tracking of the public. The use of recordings should be allowed only in internal and external investigations of misconduct, and where the police have reasonable suspicion that a recording contains evidence of a crime. Otherwise, there is no reason that stored footage should even be reviewed by a human being before its retention period ends and it is permanently deleted.

Subject Access

People recorded by cop cams should have access to, and the right to make copies of, those recordings, for however long the government maintains copies of them. This should also apply to disclosure to a third party if the subject consents, or to criminal defense lawyers seeking relevant evidence.

Public Disclosure

Public Disclosure needs to be balanced with the need for government oversight and openness and privacy.

  • Public disclosure of any recording should be allowed with the consent of the subjects, as discussed above.
  • Redaction of video records should be used when feasible - blurring or blacking out of portions of video and/or distortion of audio to obscure the identity of subjects. If recordings are redacted, they should be disclose able.
  • Un-redacted, un-flagged recordings should not be publicly disclosed without consent of the subject and consistent with state open record laws.
  • Flagged recordings are those for which there is the highest likelihood of misconduct, and thus the ones where public oversight is most needed. Redaction of disclosed recordings is preferred, but when that is not feasible, un-redacted flagged recordings should be publicly discloseable, because in such cases the need for oversight outweighs the privacy interests at stake.

Good technological controls

  • Systems should be architected to ensure that segments of video cannot be destroyed or tampered with.
  • In addition, all access to video records should be automatically recorded with immutable audit logs.
  • Systems should ensure that data retention and destruction schedules are properly maintained.
  • It is also important for systems be architected to ensure that video is only accessed when permitted according to the policy and that rogue copies cannot be made.

It is vital that public confidence in the integrity of body camera privacy protections be maintained. Confidence can only be created if good policies are put in place and backed up by good technology.

Although BWC will generate an enormous amount of video footage and raise many tricky issues, if the policy that includes recording, retention, access, use, and technology as outlined above are followed, very little of that footage will ever be viewed or retained, and at the same time those cameras will provide an important protection against police abuse, and will promote trust with the in public.

Resources needed

None. BWC already purchased for the County of Sonoma Sheriff Department.

    Timeline/implementation recommendation

    Items should be addressed within 60 days of Board approval.

    Performance indicator(s)

    • The number of Latinos will increase to meet or exceed the percentage of Latinos in other law enforcement job classifications. The number hired will increase incrementally in an amount of at least, 5% each year, until the levels of Latino patrol officers meet or exceed the average of other law enforcement job classifications, which is approximately 19.5% overall. Eventually, the number of Latino patrol deputies should reflect the community served.
    • Implementation of changes to background process will yield the number of diverse candidates, without compromising the background requirements.

    Additional considerations/alternatives explored


    Contact Information

    Business Hours
    Monday – Friday
    8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
    Sonoma County Administration Building
    575 Administration Drive
    Room 104A
    Santa Rosa, CA 95403