618 – Body-Worn Cameras (BWCs)
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) has adopted the use of body-worn cameras (BWCs) to enhance our citizen interactions and to provide additional investigatory evidence. The HCSO recognizes that BWC video, audio, and images have a limited field of view, do not capture an entire scene, and cannot always show the full story. The use of BWCs does not reduce the requirement to provide thorough written documentation of an incident.
The HCSO recognizes the benefits of using BWCs in the pursuit of achieving our mission to enhance the safety and protect the trust of the citizens of Harris County by enforcing the law with integrity and professionalism. The use of BWCs is designed to foster transparency, promote accountability, improve professionalism, and preserve recorded evidence of interactions with the public. The BWCs have the potential to improve community relations, strengthen public trust in law enforcement, reduce citizen complaints, resolve allegations of misconduct, increase accountability, and improve training.
This policy establishes guidelines for the use of BWC equipment and for the storage, management, retrieval, and release of video, audio, and image recordings captured by BWCs.
NOTE: In addition to the guidelines outlined within this policy, detention facilities shall follow procedures set forth in Detention Policy #CJC-308 – Video Recording Planned Significant Events, and patrol deputies shall follow procedures set forth in HCSO Patrol Policy #117 – In-Car Digital Video, regarding the use, uploading, labeling, storage, and retention of video.
The HCSO intends to utilize BWCs in a manner that is fair and equitable toward employees and citizens.
The HCSO has adopted the use of BWCs in order to accomplish several objectives. These objectives include, but are not limited to:
- Enhancing HCSO transparency to the public,
- Enhancing employee safety,
- Enhancing employees’ written reports, evidence collection, and court testimony,
- Enhancing employee training,
- Protecting the HCSO from false claims of impropriety,
- Providing accurate visual and audio documentation of events, actions, conditions, and statements made during arrests and critical incidents, and
- Documenting the quality of service provided by employees.
BWCs will be activated only for law enforcement purposes, and recordings will be used for legitimate law enforcement purposes only and in accordance with applicable federal and state law, including, but not limited to: the Federal Rules of Evidence, Texas Rules of Evidence, and HCSO policies and procedures.
Body-Worn Camera (BWC): A recording device worn by HCSO employees that is capable of recording video, audio, and images. The BWC does not include surreptitious recording devices used in undercover operations.
Electronic Technician / Digital Video Section: The HCSO section responsible for archiving, supervising, and managing adherence to retention guidelines for all BWC video recordings.
Employee: Any HCSO personnel (deputy or detention officer) issued BWC equipment or responsible for the supervision of assignment and issuance of BWC equipment.
HCSO BWC Administrator: A person or unit assigned agency-wide responsibility for the BWC program to include, but not be limited to: issuance of BWC equipment, inventory control, and supervision and coordination of BWC training.
Law Enforcement Activity: Any activity that advances a law enforcement goal, whether consensual or otherwise. These include, but are not limited to: traffic stops, pedestrian stops, calls for service, follow-up investigations, interviews, searches, crowd incidents, protests, and arrests.
Recording: the action or process of capturing audio sounds or physical actions with an audio or video recorder for future use or viewing.
All audio and video captured during the scope of an employee’s duties are the property of the HCSO and are subject to HCSO policies and applicable laws regarding viewing, release, retention, and destruction.
Prior to the issuance of BWC equipment, supervisors and employees shall receive HCSO-approved training on the proper operation and use of the equipment to include the review and understanding of this policy. Additional training shall be provided at periodic intervals to ensure the continued effective use of the equipment and to incorporate changes, updates, or other revisions in policies and equipment.
The individual employee is responsible for all BWC and related equipment issued to him or her, and reasonable care will be taken to ensure all equipment is functioning properly.
Employees shall inspect and test the BWC prior to the beginning of each shift and verify the equipment is functioning properly.
The employee shall notify his or her immediate supervisor of any problems or malfunctions so that a replacement BWC unit may be assigned.
In the event that a BWC is lost or damaged, the employee shall immediately notify his or her supervisor, complete an incident report, and complete a Harris County Auditor’s report. (As set forth in HCSO Department Policy #241 – County Property)
Willful negligent, abuse or destruction, carelessness, or inattention in the handling or operation of HCSO property or equipment that results in damage or loss to the property may subject the responsible employee to disciplinary action and may result in disciplinary action as set forth in HCSO Department Policy #241 – County Property.
Employees will not remove, dismantle, or tamper with any hardware or software component or any other part of a BWC.
Employees will not edit, alter, erase, duplicate, copy, or otherwise distribute in any manner BWC recordings without proper authorization.
Standardized viewing privileges of audio and video files for administrative and investigatory purposes shall be as follows:
- All employees will be able to view their own recordings.
- Investigators and supervisory staff will have viewing privileges for all recordings.
- The HCSO Office of Inspector General (OIG) may limit viewing of specific videos when deemed necessary to maintain integrity of sensitive OIG investigations.
- An employee needing access to a locked video will send a request for access and viewing of the specific video through his or her chain of command to the OIG commander.
Employees will not make copies of ANY BWC file or take photographs of recorded images (“screen shots”) for personal use and are prohibited from using a recording device such as a phone camera or secondary video camera to record such images.
Under no circumstances will audio and video evidence be converted for personal use. Accessing, copying, editing, or releasing recordings or depictions of recordings without proper approval is strictly prohibited.
Employees assigned a BWC shall use the camera at approved law enforcement off-duty employment in compliance with HCSO policies and procedures. Employees will download all evidence recorded during their off-duty employment no later than the next regularly-assigned on-duty shift or when directed by a supervisor.
Non-departmental personnel shall not be allowed to review recordings unless pursuant to written consent of the Sheriff or his or her designee. Recordings may be reviewed by other law enforcement agencies with supervisor approval for official law enforcement purposes. If a member of the public requests to view a recording, a notation of the request shall be noted in the incident report or call slip.
The employee is encouraged to inform his or her immediate supervisor of any recording that may be of value for training purposes. The supervisor should forward any recommended video of value to the BWC administrator for dissemination to other personnel or update of training.
HCSO Employee Responsibilities
Employees will request additional instruction as needed from a supervisor if they have questions related to the correct operation of the equipment.
At the beginning of each shift, employees will ensure:
- The BWC is fully charged and operational.
- The BWC is secured to his or her uniform as trained.
Prior to the end of each shift, employees will ensure:
- Video, audio, and image evidence is properly categorized for retention on the server.
- Correctly label or classify the videos with one of the following corresponding events:
- Misdemeanor, or
- Public contact.
- The notes section may include the suspect’s name, case number, DA log number, and any other data pertinent to the incident.
- The camera is synced and docked for downloading video or previously downloaded through Harris County Wi-Fi hotspots.
- Offense, incident, or arrest reports and citations indicate the existence of ANY BWC video.
NOTE: If downloading video will adversely impact staffing, supervisors may authorize a delay in downloading video. All recordings shall be uploaded and labeled no later than 72 hours after the end of the shift during which the recording was made.
The employee will inform his or her immediate supervisor of any video that has significant evidentiary value or that may be utilized for training purposes.
Shall ensure all employees assigned a BWC shall utilize them in accordance with policy and procedure.
Will ensure videos related to critical incidents are uploaded to corresponding digital files and tagged for retention prior to the end of the employee’s shift.
May review video captured by an employee’s BWC in an attempt to intervene and resolve public complaints or concerns. If the complaint or concern is resolved PRIOR to being entered into Blue Team OR receiving a formal complaint, no further action is required.
Should look for training opportunities to enhance employee performance when reviewing video. In addition, any video believed to benefit recruitment or in-service training should be forwarded through the chain of command to the BWC administrator.
Minor infractions of policy or procedure will be handled as training opportunities, and supervisors should use the opportunities to counsel with their subordinates to ensure no future violations occur as outlined in HCSO Department Policy #301 – Corrective Actions and Disciplinary Procedures.
Whenever feasible, supervisors shall review relevant BWC recordings prior to submitting any administrative reports as they relate to incidents involving use of force, pursuits, and fleet crashes.
When and How to Use the Body-Worn Camera
Employees shall utilize the BWC in the following circumstances:
Employees shall begin recording prior to contact with persons involved in the following events and continue recording until the events are concluded.
Audio and video recordings enhance the ability to review probable cause for arrest, suspect interaction, evidence for investigative and prosecutorial purposes, and to provide for officer evaluation and training.
Temporarily pausing or muting of the recording is prohibited unless otherwise stated in section B – Deactivation of Body-Worn Camera below. If recording is paused or muted, the reason will be noted by the deputy either verbally on the recording or in a written report.
Any deviations will require a supervisor’s approval and must be documented in an incident report or call slip (field notes). The law enforcement actions include, but are not limited to:
- Any enforcement stop (pedestrian or vehicle),
- An employee may activate the camera at any time prior to exiting the vehicle, including while enroute to a call destination.
- Upon exiting the police vehicle.
- If the BWC cannot be activated upon exiting the police vehicle, it shall be activated as soon as practical and safe to do so.
- Arrival to any call for service,
- Making contact with complainants regarding crimes against persons,
- Instances where the employee reasonably believes the recording may provide evidence in a criminal or internal investigation,
- Subsequent arrest, handcuffing, and search of violators and their property (including vehicles) should take place in view of the camera when practical and in accordance with agency policy and this procedure. All arrests, handcuffing, and searches occurring out of view of the camera must be documented in the employee’s report or call slip comment entry fields.
- Non-vehicle pursuits (foot and bike) as soon as employees can do so safely,
- Vehicle pursuits in police vehicles without in-car digital video recorder (DVR) systems as soon as employees can do so safely,
- Arriving at all crime-in-progress calls as soon as employees can do so safely,
- The execution of a warrant or “knock and talk” operation,
- Requesting and conducting a consensual search,
- Events prior to any planned or anticipated arrest,
- The inventory of seized narcotics, money, or any high-value property,
- Conducting standard field sobriety tests (SFSTs) or drug influence evaluations (conducted by certified Drug Recognition Experts [DREs]),
- Any situation where the employee’s training and experience cause him or her to believe the incident needs to be recorded to enhance reports, preserve evidence, or to aid in subsequent court testimony,
- Crisis Intervention Response Team (CIRT) calls,
- Special Response Group (SRG) events when instructed to record by proper authority,
- Any incident or contact that may result in an enforcement action being taken or an official report being generated, or
- Any time an employee deems video-recorded documentation is necessary.
Deputies shall record, using the BWC, during all prisoner or passenger transports, regardless of the gender of the prisoner or passenger. The entire transport shall be recorded until the deputy reaches the doorway of the Joint Processing Center at which point the deputy will end the recording.
Employees are encouraged to review video recordings of incidents prior to writing any offense, arrest, or incident reports to ensure the accuracy and consistency of the reports.
Detention Facilities: Employees working within or assigned to a detention facility shall adhere to Detention Policy #CJC-308 – Video Recording Planned Significant Events, regarding the use, uploading, labeling, storage, and retention of video. Employees issued BWCs will utilize the BWC under the following circumstances:
- Cell extraction,
- Planned forcible inmate movement,
- Uncooperative inmates,
- Canine searches, or
- Other significant events as determined by the watch commander.
Deactivation of Body-Worn Camera
The BWC shall not be activated while inside the Joint Processing Center (JPC), or medical facilities prohibiting the use of a video recording device. i.e. Mental Health Facilities, emergency room exam rooms, etc.
Exception: If the suspect or prisoner is aggressive, combative, or if the deputy believes the use of the BWC to record the incident is imperative for the evidentiary purposes of the offense, the BWC may be activated to record the deputies’ actions and those actions of other parties involved.
The BWC may be deactivated at the conclusion of an event recorded in accordance with Section A above.
The BWC does not need to be activated during non-enforcement activities such as when protecting a traffic crash scene or other incidents that provide no evidentiary value.
Employees shall have the latitude to terminate a recording when there is no likelihood of anything else of evidentiary or law enforcement value occurring.
Prior to deactivation of the BWC, employees will make a recorded announcement as to the reason the device is being deactivated, such as:
- “Contact completed,”
- “Incident concluded,”
- “Instructed by [supervisor name] to end recording,” or
- “Employee or supervisor discussion in the field.”
An employee violates this policy if he or she fails to activate his or her BWC or intentionally terminates a recording in order to commit a violation of HCSO policy or law.
Employees are not required to obtain consent from a private person to record in a public place or in a location where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.
The employee has the discretion to determine if he or she wants to announce that an incident or interaction is being recorded.
While in public areas, employees are not required to inform a subject that an interaction is being recorded unless the subject specifically asks if he or she is being recorded. At that time, the employee will inform the subject he or she is being recorded.
When in a private residence in an official capacity, employees are not required to inform the resident that the interaction is being recorded. The employee is encouraged to inform the resident of the recording if doing so would better serve the handling of the incident.
If the BWC fails to activate, the employee will document the failure in field notes or an offense report. The employee will also notify his or her immediate supervisor of the equipment failure.
If an employee fails to activate the BWC or fails to record the entire contact, he or she shall document the reasons in his or her incident report or otherwise note in the case file or record the reasons for not activating the camera. Any justification for failing to activate the BWC because it is unsafe, unrealistic, or impracticable is based on whether a reasonable officer under the same or similar circumstances would have made the same decision.
Prohibited Use of BWC Equipment
The use of BWCs is prohibited in any situation where persons have an expectation of privacy, such as bathrooms and locker rooms, unless usage is required to capture evidence for a criminal investigation.
The use of BWCs in a hospital or doctor’s office setting will be limited to investigative use only. Employees will not record a patient’s medical interaction and procedures with hospital or medical personnel unless all parties are aware that a recording is taking place and is needed as evidence.
Usage of BWCs is prohibited when on break or otherwise engaged in personal activity.
Usage of BWCs is prohibited during administrative investigations.
Images of undercover personnel or confidential informants will not be recorded unless requested by the undercover investigator or his or her immediate supervisor for the advancement of an investigation.
Usage of BWCs is prohibited during any work-related meetings, details, or conversations of a fellow employee without his or her knowledge during non-enforcement related activities.
Usage of BWCs is prohibited during any personal conversations of or between another HCSO member or other employee without the recorded member’s or employee’s knowledge or permission.
Employees will only use HCSO-issued BWCs and equipment.
The BWC viewing equipment will only be used for legitimate law enforcement purposes.
Significant Events and Life-Threatening Use of Force Incidents
All HCSO employees are required to notify an on-duty supervisor of any significant event.
The supervisor informed of the significant event may either “seize” the BWCs from his or her subordinates for immediate download or have them immediately download the video.
In the event the supervisor orders his or her subordinates to download the videos immediately, the supervisor has a duty to ensure all the videos were downloaded.
In use of force cases involving serious bodily injury or death (HCSO Department Policy #501 – Use of Force) by HCSO employees, the BWCs SHALL be “seized” and treated as evidence.
The supervisor “seizing” the BWCs shall notify the bureau commander and Office of Inspector General for determination whether the video will be downloaded at the bureau level or if the BWCs will be submitted to the HCSO Communication and Technology Bureau, Electronic Technician of the Digital Video Section, for downloading and archiving.
In such cases, the employees will be notified to contact the HCSO BWC administrator to determine if their BWC equipment will be replaced.
Retention, Storage, and Handling of Videos
Public Information Act requests: All videos will be handled in accordance with HCSO policies and procedures and will be in compliance with Chapter 552 of the Texas Government Code.
Video requests from media or defense attorneys must be processed through the appropriate Public Information Officer, Media Relations Office, or the County Attorney’s Office.
All videos will be maintained for a minimum of 90 days. If the video has not been categorized as one which is to be retained, it will automatically be deleted after 90 days.
Whenever a video is marked as evidence or a complaint is received from which the incident was recorded, that video will be held in accordance with the Harris County retention guidelines and state and federal retention requirements.
Video recording hard copies will only be created for official reasons to include:
- Criminal evidence,
- Public Information Act (open records) requests,
- OIG requests,
- Approved training section requests, and
- Other requests, if approved by the bureau commanders.
BWC recordings will not be provided to anyone outside of the HCSO unless the recordings are requested through the proper Public Information Act request process or through a Criminal Justice request received on a completed and approved request form. HCSO Legal Services will set charges for duplications of videos for Public Information Act requests.
A recording created with a BWC and documenting an incident that involves the use of deadly force by any HCSO employee or that is otherwise related to an administrative or criminal investigation of an employee may not be deleted, destroyed, or released to the public until all criminal matters have been finally adjudicated and all related administrative investigations have concluded.
Per Texas state law, a law enforcement officer is entitled to access recordings of an incident involving him or her before being required to make a statement about the incident.
Copies of recordings not involving pending criminal action, civil litigation, or internal investigations may be used for training purposes with the approval of the BWC administrator.
Audits of BWC Recordings
Audits of BWC recordings shall be conducted to determine whether policies and procedures properly account for updates to technology, are in compliance with new laws, and reflect the most up-to-date research and best practices. Periodic assessments also help determine whether current policies and practices are effective and if there are compliance issues.
Shift commanders shall ensure that a minimum of two (2) randomly selected videos from his or her assigned employees are reviewed quarterly.
Shift commanders shall provide a quarterly written report to the bureau commander through the chain of command. The report shall include, but is not limited to:
- The audit date,
- The offense type and number of videos reviewed,
- The name of the employee assigned the BWC reviewed,
- The name of the supervisor conducting the review, and
- Notations of observed actions to include whether the BWC equipment was utilized properly.
If, within the course of the video review, violations of policy or training are discovered, the supervisor shall follow current HCSO policies and procedures for addressing any observed violations.
The HCSO designated BWC administrator is responsible for establishing inventory control and coordinating the distribution of BWC equipment.
Additionally, he or she will assist Harris County Information Technology, the HCSO Communication and Technology Bureau, and the Electronic Technician and Digital Video Section with the installation of equipment, any technical problems, software updates, and observed training deficiencies, etc.
He or she will be responsible for keeping abreast of any legal updates and guidelines affecting the Body-Worn Camera program and generate a biannual review (forwarded to the Bureau Commander) of HCSO Department Policy #618 – Body-Worn Cameras (BWCs) and analysis of the BWC Program which shall include:
- Legal updates that may affect the program.
- Suggested training protocols and/or training deficiencies.
- Suggested policy revisions.
- The BWC administrator shall coordinate with the HCSO Academy to ensure applicable training is provided to supervisors and all employees issued BWC equipment.
- The BWC administrator will ensure TeleStaff is updated with accurate notations of all employees issued BWC equipment.
This policy has been revised on the below listed dates:
December 4, 2014
March 23, 2017
February 7, 2019
March 9, 2020