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What is a body-worn camera?

An officer body-worn camera (BWC) is a relatively small device that records both audio and video interactions between community members and law enforcement officers. It is typically worn on the front of the Officer's uniform shirt or their outermost garment such as a jacket.

What are the benefits of using body-worn cameras?

Research conducted by agencies using BWCs has shown body cameras to be effective at improving transparency between the police and community, decreasing the use of force by officers, and reducing community complaints related to service delivery. BWCs also enable better evidence collection during service calls, recording what the officer sees and hears. More information on the perceived benefits of BWCs can be found in the Department of Justice guide, Implementing a Body-Worn Camera Program: Recommendations and Lessons Learned.

Does the State of Illinois provide guidance on the use of BWCs?

Yes. The Illinois Law Enforcement Officer–Worn Body Camera Act provides detailed guidance and requirements around proper use of this technology. The law outlines when the cameras must be activated and de-activated, video retention requirements, and when video can be reviewed or released, to name a few. 

When will an officer activate a body-worn camera?

Northwestern police officers will activate a BWC anytime they are in uniform and responding to calls for service or engaged in any law enforcement-related encounter or activity that occurs while they are on duty.

How will I know if I’m being recorded by a body-worn camera?

The BWC will show a blinking light on the top of the device when it is recording. Although they are not required to notify community members that their BWC is recording during a given interaction, Northwestern police officers will verbally inform community members that they are being recorded, unless circumstances prevent them from doing so. Community members are welcome to ask the officer whether or not they are being recorded and the officer will answer the question when asked.   

Can I ask the officer to turn the camera off?

Yes. Officers are required to turn the camera off when a person reporting a crime or incident to the police requests it to be turned off, unless it is impractical to do so or the person making the request is a suspect. An example of when it may not be practical is during the investigation of a crime in progress, when a witness is providing details about the crime having just occurred.

Will the BWC be turned on and recording in residence halls?

Yes. Officers are required to activate the camera when they are responding to a call for service, or engaged in any law enforcement activity, regardless of the location. A victim or witness can request the BWC be turned off, and the officer will deactivate the camera unless there is a need to continue recording.  

Will the BWC be turned on when officers are working campus events such as Commencement, athletic events, or Dillo Day?

No, unless the officers are in uniform, need to respond to a call for service, or become engaged in any law enforcement-related encounter or activity that occurs while they are on duty at the event. For example, if the officer is assigned to work an entrance gate for Commencement, that officer’s camera will not be on; however, if that officer is dispatched to a call for service, the officer will turn the camera on until the service call is complete.

How long will a recording be stored?

Files recorded for routine service-related functions will be automatically deleted after a period of 90 days; however, current Illinois BWC laws require extended retention for certain video. Read the full text of the Illinois Law Enforcement Officer-Worn Body Camera Act.

Who can view the video?

The State’s Attorney, courts, and other attorneys party to a case will have access to relevant portions of video in their proceedings. Any recording flagged as part of a complaint, discharge of a firearm, use of force, arrest or detention, or death will be disclosed in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act. Video is not available for viewing unless it meets one of the criteria listed above.

Are there any other universities using BWCs?

Yes. The following institutions have already implemented the use of BWCs:

  • Michigan State
  • Rutgers University
  • University of Iowa
  • University of Maryland
  • University of Wisconsin
  • University  of Nebraska
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Illinois at Chicago