Justice Department Launches Body Camera Pilot Program

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A Los Angles Police officer wears a body camera.
Source: Lisa Marie Segarra, “Police Body Cameras Could Get Facial Recognition Technology,” fortune.com, Apr. 26, 2018

Until now, local, state, and tribal police forces who have a policy of wearing body cameras could not do so when they were participating in joint task forces with Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ announced a pilot program on Oct. 28, 2019 that could change that policy.

The pilot program beginning Nov. 1, 2019 will allow local police officers working with federal law enforcement to wear body cameras when executing arrest and search warrants. The program will last at least 90 days and run in at least six cities to evaluate when cameras should record, what the policy for undercover agents should be, how to store footage captured by the cameras, and how that footage might be used in court.

Attorney General William Barr, JD, stated, “I am pleased that this pilot program takes into account the interests and priorities of all the law enforcement agencies involved in federal task forces. These are some of the most dangerous jobs in law enforcement, and I am grateful for the sacrifice of those who serve. The Department of Justice has no higher priority than ensuring the safety and security of the American people and this pilot program will continue to help us fulfill that mission.”

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the US Marshals Service (USMS) issued statements in support of the new program.

According to figures published by The Washington Post in Jan. 2019, body camera programs exist in about half of the country’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies. However, some smaller departments have dropped their programs due to the cost of storing the footage.

While public support for body cameras is high, research on the impact of the technology is inconclusive. Cynthia Lum, PhD, MSc, Professor of Criminology, Law, and Society at George Mason University, stated, “Expectations and concerns surrounding body-worn cameras among police leaders and citizens have not yet been realized by and large in the ways anticipated by each. It’s likely that body-worn cameras alone will not be an easy panacea for improving police performance, accountability, and relationships with citizens.”

Discussion Questions – Things to Think About
1. What are the benefits of police officers wearing body cameras? What potential problems can you imagine?

2. Should federal law enforcement officers wear body cameras? Why or why not?

3. Should the public be allowed to view body camera footage after an incident involving a law enforcement officer? Why or why not?


Department of Justice, “Department Of Justice Announces Pilot Program for Use of Body-Worn Cameras by Federally Deputized Task Force Officers,” justice.gov, Oct. 28, 2019

Justine Coleman, “Justice Department to Allow Body Cameras on Joint Task Forces,” thehill.com, Oct. 28, 2019

Kimberly Kindy, “Some U.S. Police Departments Dump Body-Camera Programs Amid High Costs,” washingtonpost.com, Jan. 21, 2019

PR Lockhart, “Body Cameras Were Supposed to Help Improve Policing. They Aren’t Living up to the Hype.,” vox.com, Mar. 27, 2019

Cynthia Lum, Megan Stoltz, Christopher S. Koper, and J. Amber Scherer, “Research on Body-Worn Cameras,” Criminology and Public Policy, Mar. 29, 2019