Federal agents will now be required to wear body cameras when executing search warrants or making pre-planned arrests, according to a new policy outlined Monday by the Justice Department’s second highest-ranking official.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco announced the change in a memo acknowledging the importance of “transparency and accountability” in building trust between federal officers and the communities they serve.
While a growing number of police departments nationwide require body cameras, the Justice Department has long shielded federal officers from wearing them, arguing they pose a potential risk to sensitive investigations.
Monaco’s announcement marks a reversal of that stance, and comes amid a national reckoning around the issue of police accountability sparked in recent years by the killings of Black men and women by officers in law enforcement.
“Although the Department’s law enforcement components do not regularly conduct patrols or routinely engage with the public in response to emergency calls, there are circumstances where the Department’s agents encounter the public during pre-planned law enforcement operations,” Monaco wrote. “The Department is committed to the use of body-worn cameras (BWCs) by the Department’ s law enforcement agents in such circumstances.”
Shaping the new requirements
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the FBI and the United States Marshals Service will have 30 days to draft their own policies in accordance with the new requirements, Monaco said.
The policies submitted by each agency must include guidance on how often body cameras will be recording. Sometimes referred to as either a pre-event recording or a buffering period, body cameras can be set to temporarily take and store video footage even before officers press record, according to a 2016 report funded by the Department of Justice. Such footage can be instrumental in providing context to officer-involved shootings.
Also required in the new mandate are methods for properly storing body camera footage and plans for releasing footage in a timely manner in the event of “serious bodily injury or death.”
The ATF, DEA, FBI and Marshals Service are also tasked with creating a plan to phase in the use of body cameras and naming an official who will oversee all matters related to their agency’s body camera policies. The Department of Justice will then review the proposed plans. The department is also giving U.S. attorneys 90 days to design a program for training federal prosecutors on the proper use of body camera footage as evidence.
An attempt to build trust
Monaco pointed to the move as part of a continued effort by the Department of Justice to build trust with the country’s citizens.
“I am proud of the job performed by the Department’s law enforcement agents, and I am confident that these policies will continue to engender the trust and confidence of the American people in the work of the Department of Justice,” she said.
Monday’s announcement comes less than a year after the DOJ approved the use of body cameras for those serving on federal task forces. The parameters of that decree were similar: “federally deputized officers” serving on state, local, territorial, and tribal task forces were mandated to wear body cameras during “planned arrest operations” — like the serving of arrest warrants and while executing search warrants.
“The Department of Justice has no higher priority than ensuring the safety and security of the American people and this policy will continue to help us fulfill that mission,” then-Attorney General William P. Barr said at the time.
That announcement came one year after the DOJ tried out the use of body cameras on a smaller scale, permitting law enforcement officers on federal task forces in designated cities to wear body cameras. It was a first for the department and came after several law enforcement agencies requested that their officers wear body cameras in situations where use of force may occur — in accordance with their own previously-established policies.