An Untapped Opportunity: Using Body Camera Footage in Police Training

by | March 10, 2023

When body-worn cameras (BWCs) were first introduced, buy-in was not instantaneous. Officers and leaders alike pushed back against their adoption. But today, BWCs play a critical role in the operations of many law enforcement agencies and are often evidence of excellence for these agencies. As law enforcement officers and leaders have grown to understand how BWCs help protect community members and officers themselves, body camera footage has often become integral in the report-writing process, performance audits, investigations and reviews, and media and public records requests. Above all, by preserving a video record from the officer’s perspective, more of the incident can be known, recalled and analyzed for proper compliance with policy.

“All of these traditional uses are valuable, but I think we’ve missed the mark on another very important piece—the training component,” Dr. Rudy Hall explains. In a recent Lexipol webinar, “Using Body Camera Video to Transform Officer Training,” Dr. Hall and Dr. David Makin discuss this question and offer insight into how agencies can use this footage to make training more effective.

Police departments and sheriff’s offices across the United States now have hundreds of thousands of hours of body camera footage that may never see the light of day. This footage presents a treasure trove of opportunity when it comes to training. Consider how video can clearly communicate the tension, stress and danger that law enforcement personnel encounter in a way that simulated training cannot—all while demonstrating the correct or incorrect officer response. By incorporating body camera footage into classroom and simulated training, officers can be better prepared to safely police the streets.

A Training Repository

“The video that you’re collecting has more value than many of us realize,” says Dr. Hall. Body camera footage presents real-life contacts that cannot be easily or effectively replicated in a training scenario. Sometimes the footage demonstrates an officer’s mistakes. Other times, it demonstrates an officer’s exemplary, policy-compliant response. In either situation, new and seasoned officers can learn from these interactions and apply those lessons to their own contacts.

BWC footage can provide objective data to support agency-level decisions about officer guidelines and behavior while showing concrete examples of how policies and procedures play out during contacts. To do this, your agency must create a library of BWC footage that includes both exemplary interactions and interactions featuring mistakes and room for improvement.

“All of these traditional uses are valuable, but I think we’ve missed the mark on another very important piece—the training component.”

“You train your officers, you give them policy, they’re out interacting in the community. Are they doing what they’re required to do? Where are they doing it well? Where are opportunities to improve?” Dr. Makin asks. The exemplary interactions help both to reinforce proper application of policy and procedures and establish a benchmark of professionalism within your agency. It’s also okay to show mistakes and offer insight into how the officer should have responded in compliance with policy. Ultimately, it is critical to clearly contextualize all body camera footage for training purposes, as you differentiate between the good and bad stops, and make points of application and policy clear.

From Implementation to Integration

With body camera footage, “you have such a large amount of data,” says Dr. Makin. So, how do you identify those pieces of footage that are applicable to training and decide whether to include them in your repository? Body camera audits present an opportunity for supervisors to review randomly selected videos to ensure policy compliance. But these audits can also serve to identify those videos that would be suitable for training the rest of your personnel. How and how often these audits are conducted must be clearly outlined in your agency’s policy manual, but it would be a missed opportunity not to consider how these videos could be used in officer training.

Body camera footage that is properly integrated into your agency’s training program can have a profound impact on officer behavior and organizational culture as a whole, explains Dr. Makin: “Research would suggest that it can shift the organizational culture toward that mission and vision, making it a reality.” True integration of BWC footage in training requires alignment between your agency’s technology and practices. Ensure your processes for recording, auditing and reviewing body camera footage align with department policies while maximizing training efficiencies. Determine what key performance indicators (KPIs) you will use to determine if your body camera training is meeting objectives. Questions of how, how often and in what context to incorporate body camera footage in training should be considered ahead of time to ensure success.

“The hope is to be able to start a discussion and, for those of you who are not using your body camera video for training, that you would think differently on how you can use it,” Dr. Hall explains. Learn more in the on-demand webinar, “Using Body Camera Video to Transform Officer Training.”

Lexipol provides public safety and local government with solutions that combine the impact of information with the power of technology. We serve more than 2 million first responders and local government officials with policies, training, wellness resources, grant assistance, and news and analysis.

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