Explainer: How police bodycams are used in the U.S.

Police bodycams are increasingly being used by U.S. law enforcement agencies.

Capturing everything while an officer is on duty.

From arrests to chasing pigs to saving a lost 2-year-old girl.

But they also record police killings.

Most notably, prosecutors used recordings from the body camera of former police officer Derek Chauvin to convict him for the murder of George Floyd.

Here’s how body-worn cameras are employed and when the footage is made public.

Let’s go back to 2014, when the police shooting of a Black man named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri had conflicting witness accounts.

That led the Obama administration to fund body-worn camera programs across 32 states.

As of 2016, about half of the country’s general-purpose law enforcement agencies had bought the cameras.

That’s according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Larger agencies are more likely to adopt the devices.

Seven states require state-wide usage:

Colorado, Connecticut, New Mexico, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and South Carolina

One notable exception is the police department in Portland, Oregon, which ceased its pilot program in 2020, citing "major budget constraints."

But even if states HAVE the cameras, how they are used varies. For example: Are the bodycams always running?

Reuters reporter Julia Harte:

“The rules around when body cameras have to be activated are also different from state to state. There's been a few laws, for instance, passed in the last year that require officers to always wear cameras on the job. And with a few exceptions, such as cases where the subject of the encounter with the police requests the camera to be turned off. Those laws require the police to record every encounter they have with the member of the public. But activations, when there is no law requiring a specific period of time for the cameras to be activated can vary a lot. There was a study out of Anaheim, California, that found average activations ranged from zero percent to 72 percent for officers."

North Carolina has one of the most restrictive laws, if you want a copy of a bodycam recording here, you need court approval.

Colorado, on the other hand, requires recordings to be released to the public within 21 days after the agency receives a complaint of misconduct.

Studies show that many police officers welcome the transparency while others say the videos only offer a partial view of incidents and can skew public reactions.

"Many law enforcement officers do welcome body worn cameras because from their perspective, the footage from a camera can clear up a situation where the officer is accused of undue violence or racist policing, and the officer sometimes can use their own body camera footage to show the circumstances that led them to act the way they did. Other officers to oversee the body camera videos sort of only offer a partial view of an encounter. And so that can skew the public perception of their. Comportment in that incident."

Civil rights advocates say the timely release of body-worn camera footage, balanced with privacy considerations, is key to holding law enforcement officers accountable.