Nearly one-third of local police departments in the United States provided officers with body-worn cameras in 2013, and 70% required uniformed officers to wear protective body armor while on patrol, a new report shows.
The country’s 12,000 local police departments are also using other forms of technology and safety equipment, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). The bureau’s survey, released in July 2015, found that 68% of agencies used in-car video cameras in 2013, up from 61% in 2007, the last time the survey was conducted.
Departments allowing the use of stun guns and Tasers skyrocketed from 7% in 2000 to 81% in 2013.
Nearly all agencies surveyed reported authorizing the use of pepper spray (94%) and batons (87%), as well as some type of video camera technology. That included about 49% of departments that used video cameras in public areas and 17% that used automated license plate readers.
The new survey was the first to ask about body-worn cameras. It follows the U.S. Department of Justice’s recent announcement of a $20 million Body-Worn Camera Pilot Partnership Program to help law enforcement agencies develop, implement and evaluate body-worn camera programs.
The initiative is part of President Barack Obama’s plan to earmark $75 million over three years toward the purchase of 50,000 body-worn cameras for agencies.
The pilot program includes $17 million to buy cameras, $2 million for training and technical support, and $1 million to create assessment tools and study best practices.
Proponents say body cameras enhance transparency and promote accountability for police officers and the neighborhoods they serve. That can lead to fewer community complaints, and curb conflicts between police and citizens.
The grants will be given to 50 law enforcement agencies, about one-third of them to smaller departments. Each grant requires an equal match from the agency, which must have a training and implementation plan in place before the cameras are bought. Maintaining the program will be the responsibility of each department.
A 2013 report by the Police Executive Research Forum found that few law enforcement agencies had written policies regulating the use of body cameras, even though the technology was becoming more widespread.
To help law enforcement agencies with their body camera programs, the Office of Justice Programs’ Bureau of Justice Assistance has launched the National Body-Worn Camera Toolkit. The online toolkit compiles research, templates, tools and other resources, and was developed by law enforcement officials, criminal justice practitioners, national policy leaders, and civil rights and community advocates.