5 Things to Look For in Body Worn Cameras

Written by Retired Lt. Ricky Rhodes of Tigard PD/FBINAA #220

Body Camera Features & Reviews

Body-worn cameras are a hot topic among police departments and the public alike. If you have been following our blog you may have caught our article that takes a critical look at the first-ever study on body cameras.  If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of body camera’s, click here.

Body-worn cameras are becoming a top budgetary concern in PD’s all over the country. However, before rushing out to supply your department with the first BWC you find, we’ve made a list of things to consider when purchasing for your department. We’ve included a handy infographic that compares and contrasts our top picks for body cameras. By the end of this article you will have all the info you need to make a purchase decision.

1. Point of View

Body Camera Reviews & Features

Having a camera that mounts on the shoulder pad ensures that the camera will always follow the officer’s line of sight.

The most important thing for any BWC is that it captures what it’s intended to capture. Ideally, the BWC should follow the officer’s line of sight. If the camera’s affixed to the middle of the officer’s chest and they get into a fighting stance, the camera will be pointed towards the ground. While some recommend camera’s on the ear-paddles of sunglasses or the brim of baseball caps, keep in mind those items are not affixed firmly to the officer and could be easily removed during conflict. Our recommendation is to look for a camera that is affixed to the epaulet (shoulder pad) of the uniform.

2. Technical Features

Aside from the placement and POV of the camera, other things to take into consideration are the actual features of the camera, such as the following:

  • Pre-event recording: When an officer hits record, the event they’re recording has presumably already started. With pre-event recording, the camera will attach the previous 20-30 seconds before the record button was hit to the footage.
  • Microphone: While video footage is good, context is even better. A BWC with a microphone is more powerful than just the footage itself. However, some cameras will not have the microphone on for the pre-event recording.
  • Lighting: The resolution of the camera is important in recording details and proper lighting plays a factor into this. Look at cameras that have good resolution in low-light situations.

Body Camera Reviews & Features

3. Durability

As you already know, an officer’s job can be quite unpredictable, so a BWC needs to be durable to handle whatever our job throws at us. It’s important to focus on the “ruggedness” of the camera while also keeping in mind size and weight. If the camera is too heavy or big for the officer, it might not be used. Look for cameras that are sturdy, lightweight, and weatherproof. Also take into consideration the battery life and battery life-span of the camera. The battery should last an entire shift before needing to be charged, which is especially important BWC’s that have pre-event recording. The battery-lifespan is also important- how long can you go without having to replace the battery? Looking into the effectiveness of the battery after so many charges is important because it could lead to large expenses down the road.

4. File Storage & Downloading

The amount of storage space on the camera is important as it will determine how often the footage needs to be downloaded. Most cameras have about 16-32GB of storage on them, with about 1GB being used per hour. Of course this also depends on the resolution of the camera. The higher the resolution, the larger file size the footage will be.

Downloading the footage to clear up space should be taken into consideration. How easy is it to download the files after a shift? Some cameras use a dock that simultaneously charges the camera while uploading the files to the computer or a server. Once the files are uploaded, the camera will delete the files and charge until the next officer is ready to use it. Camera’s also allow the officer’s badge number and name to be tagged to the files when they’re uploaded, which improves officer accountability. 

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5. Price

Your budget is ultimately going to be the make or break decision. However, there are more expenses to take into account than just the upfront costs of purchasing the cameras.

  • Will you need to pay for future upgrades or replace parts?
  • What does the warranty include and how long does it last?
  • Are there any costs for data storage and management?
  • What kind of customer support is included with the cameras? Is it quick and efficient, do they have phone support or is it email only?

Keeping all of those considerations in mind, we also compiled a list of cameras that we think fit most or all of the criteria mentioned. Take a look at the graphic below.

Body Worn Camera Reviews

Does your PD use cameras? What has been your experience with them? Let us know in the comments below.

About Retired Lt. Ricky Rhodes

Ret. Lt. Ricky Rhodes

Ricky has over 30 years of experience serving in the police force and is an active member of the FBINAA community, so lets just say he may know a thing or two. Currently he works at InTime helping police departments solve their complex scheduling requirements.