3-12 Body-Worn Cameras (BWC)

Policy Type: Local

Responsible Office: Chief John Venuti, Virginia Commonwealth University Police Department

Initial Policy Approved: 4/20/2015

Current Revision Approved: 9/21/2023



It is in the department’s interest to acquire and fully utilize technology that will aid officers and increase the likelihood of successful prosecution. Body-worn camera (BWC) equipment provides an unbiased audio/video recording of events that officers encounter. These recordings can be useful for the documentation of evidence, preparation of offense reports, and future court testimony. The recordings can also protect officers from false allegations of misconduct and prove useful when debriefing incidents or evaluating performance. 

The purpose of this policy is to establish department procedures for the operation of BWC equipment. It is the department’s policy that officers shall use digital mobile video/audio recorder equipment for the purpose of recording an objective video and audio account of events as they occur. BWC equipment shall be used only as set forth in this policy. This policy does not govern surreptitious recording devices used in undercover operations.  

This policy sets forth the significance of collecting, safeguarding and storing BWC recordings. Officers shall ensure that they employ proper use of BWC as governed within this directive. Officers who deviate from the guidelines set forth may be subject to disciplinary action.


Accountability Statement

All employees are expected to fully comply with the guidelines and timelines set forth in this written directive.  Failure to comply will result in appropriate corrective action.  Responsibility rests with the division commander to ensure that any policy violations are investigated and appropriate training, counseling and/or disciplinary action is initiated.



VCUPD has adopted the use of the BWC system to accomplish several objectives. The primary objectives are as follows:

  1. Administration
    1. BWCs allow for accurate documentation of police-public contacts, arrest, and critical incidents. They also serve to enhance the accuracy of officer reports and testimony in court.
    2. Audio and video recordings also enhance the department’s ability to review probable cause for arrest, officer and suspect interaction, and evidence for investigative and prosecutorial purposes and to provide additional information for officer evaluation and training.
    3. The BWC may also be useful in documenting crime and accident scenes or other events that include the confiscation and documentation of evidence or contraband.
    4. The BWC may also be informative in enhancing the department’s levels of professionalism, customer service, and community policing objectives.
  2. When and How to Use the BWC
    1. Prior to arriving on any call for service, Officers shall activate the BWC to record all contacts with citizens in the performance of official duties, as outlined in this directive.
      1. NOTE: Officers may exercise discretion in activating their camera during non-law enforcement contacts, such as those related to providing basic assistance or directions to citizens, engaging in community policing events, and merchant checks. Should an officer be unsure as to whether or not they should activate the BWC, the officer shall always err on the side of recording.
    2. Officers shall activate their BWC when a Code-1 call has been acknowledged.
    3. All officers present at any incident which involved the use of force shall mark all BWC footage as evidentiary in Evidence.com for retention purposes.
    4. Officers shall activate their BWC immediately upon assignment to a panic button call.
    5. The BWC shall remain activated until the event is completed in order to ensure the integrity of the recording, unless the officer moves into an area in which recording is restricted by this policy.
    6. Citizens shall not be allowed to review the recordings at the scene. If a citizen requests to review recordings, officers shall request their contact information and inform them that their inquiry will be handled in accordance with the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. Upon receipt of a request, pursuant to Virginia FOIA, the request must be documented and immediately forwarded to the Records Manager. Personnel shall reference subsection (J) below and Written Directive 2-8 Media Relations and Public Information Requests for further information regarding Virginia FOIA requests.
  3. Non-activation/Late Activation Matrix
    1. Within a one-year time frame, if an officer fails to activate the BWC, fails to record the entire contact, interrupts the recording, late activation, or experiences a system malfunction, the BWC Non-activation/Late Activation Matrix will be applied.
      1. 1st Non-activation/late activation:
        1. Letter of explanation due to the Officer’s immediate Supervisor. The officer shall document why a recording was not made, was interrupted, or was terminated. This shall be documented in the report, as well as on the actual BWC footage through the use of the microphone.
      2. 2nd Non-activation/late activation:
        1. Letter of explanation due to the Officer’s immediate Supervisor and their immediate Supervisor. The officer shall document why a recording was not made, was interrupted, or was terminated. This shall be documented in the report, as well as on the actual BWC footage through the use of the microphone.
        2. Verbal counsel will be documented to reflect 2nd incident
        3. A BWC policy review will be conducted by the Officer
      3. 3rd Non-activation/late activation:
        1. A letter of explanation due to the Officer’s immediate Supervisor and their immediate Supervisor. The officer shall document why a recording was not made, was interrupted, or was terminated. This shall be documented in the report, as well as on the actual BWC footage through the use of the microphone.
        2. A letter of counseling will be issued to the Officer
        3. A BWC policy review will be conducted by the Officer
      4. 4th Non-Activation/late activation:
        1. Meeting with the Division Commander
        2. Advanced disciplinary action will be considered
  4. Procedures for Use
    1. BWC equipment is issued primarily to uniformed personnel as authorized by this department.
      1. Officers, sergeants, and lieutenants assigned to patrol activities (i.e., day, night, support services, investigations & crime prevention, and Traffic Unit officers) shall be issued BWC equipment.
      2. Off-duty overtime officers shall be issued BWC equipment.
    2. Officers who are assigned BWC equipment must use the equipment, unless otherwise authorized by supervisory personnel.
    3. Police personnel shall use only department-issued BWCs. The BWC equipment and all data, images, video, and metadata captured, recorded, or otherwise produced by the equipment is the sole property of the VCUPD.
    4. The use of personal BWC recording devices is strictly prohibited.
    5. Police personnel who are assigned BWCs must be trained on the operation of the equipment prior to its use. BWC equipment will be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines.
    6. BWC equipment is the responsibility of individual officers and shall be used with reasonable care to ensure proper functioning.
    7. Officers shall inspect and test the BWC equipment prior to each shift to verify that it is properly functioning and shall notify their supervisor of any equipment problems. Any equipment malfunctions shall first be brought to the attention of the officer’s supervisor as soon as possible, so that a replacement unit may be procured. Subsequently, the officer must notify the Operational Support Coordinator via email for further assessment and handling, as necessary. 
    8. Officers shall ensure that the BWC is properly mounted in such a way that the camera is positioned to capture the most optimal view of each encounter. Officers have the ability to verify positioning through the use of the BWC smartphone application.
    9. Officers shall not edit, alter, erase, duplicate, copy, share, disseminate, or otherwise distribute in any manner BWC recordings without prior written authorization and approval of the Chief or their designee (except for those authorized for release to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office).
    10. Officers are encouraged to inform their supervisor of any video/audio recorded sequences that may be of value during the investigation of a citizen complaint or for training purposes.
    11. If an officer is suspected of wrongdoing or involved in an officer-involved shooting or other serious use of force incident, the department reserves the right to limit or restrict an officer from viewing the video file.
    12. Requests for edits/deletions of portions of the recordings (i.e. in the event of an accidental, personal recording) must be submitted in writing and approved by the Chief or their designee in accordance with records retention regulations. All requests and final decisions shall be maintained on file.
    13. Officers shall note in their incident, arrest, administrative, and related reports when recordings were made during each incident in question; however, BWC recordings are not a replacement for written reports.
  5. Restrictions
    1. The use of BWC equipment for purposes other than official police business is strictly prohibited. Consequently, BWC equipment shall not be used to record:
      1. Communications with other police personnel without the permission of the Chief or their designee,
      2. Encounters with undercover officers or confidential informants,
      3. Encounters involving victim and witness statements regarding crimes of a sexual nature, unless directed by a supervisor,
      4. When on break or otherwise engaged in personal activities, and/or
      5. In any location where individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a restroom or locker room.
    2. Recognizing that there are certain areas in the VCU Health System in which there is a higher expectation of privacy, BWC equipment shall only be activated in the following situations:
      1. In public areas such as waiting rooms or hallways, with the exception of psychiatric waiting rooms, and
      2. In patient care or clinical areas only when, in the officer’s reasonable judgment, there is a potential threat or harm to patients, visitors, guests, or employees.
        1. NOTE: There is a heightened sensitivity to activating BWC equipment in pediatrics, psychiatry, and emergency room clinical areas.
  6. Review of BWC System Recordings
    1. All files shall be securely loaded periodically and no later than the end of each shift. Each file shall contain the following information:
      1. BWC ID – All footage shall be identified by IBR/CAD number
      2. Title – The officer may title their footage in such a way that will assist with memory recall when searching for BWC footage
      3. Category – All footage shall be categorized into one of two categories to ensure proper preservation. The officer will select which of the categories below apply to the incident that was recorded: 
        1. Non-evidentiary (preserved for 180 days)
        2. Evidentiary (preserved indefinitely)
    2. The Operational Support Coordinator is responsible for responding to all requests for evidentiary footage received from the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office. Body-worn camera footage shall only be shared upon request from the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.
      1. NOTE: All associated footage shall be combined into one case labeled by IBR number. This case shall include all footage captured during the incident (i.e., backing officer(s) and supervisor footage) and shared as one file.
    3. All images and sounds are the exclusive property of the VCUPD. Accessing, copying or releasing files for non-law enforcement purposes is strictly prohibited.
    4. All access to BWC files will be strictly monitored by the Chief and their designees. All access shall be audited quarterly by the Operational Support Coordinator or other designated personnel to ensure that only authorized users are accessing the data for legitimate and authorized purposes.
    5. Recordings may be reviewed:
      1. By an employee to ensure that the BWC system is operable;
      2. By an employee to assist with writing a report, supplement or memorandum;
      3. By authorized persons for the purpose of reviewing evidence;
      4. By a supervisor investigating a specific act of employee conduct;
      5. By Supervisor for the required weekly reviews;
      6. By authorized department personnel participating in an official investigation, such as a personnel complaint, administrative inquiry, or criminal investigation.
    6. Recordings may be shown for the purpose of training. If an involved employee objects to showing a recording, their objection shall be submitted in writing to their commander to determine if the training value outweighs the objection.
    7. The Operational Support Coordinator or other designated personnel will review BWC recordings on a daily basis to ensure that the equipment is operating properly and that officers are using the devices appropriately and in accordance with policy, as well as to identify areas in which additional training or guidance is required.
      1. In the event that the review identifies any issues involving an officer’s misuse of the device and/or potential policy violations, the Operational Support Coordinator or other designated personnel will promptly notify the supervisory Captain or Lieutenant for that officer’s area and the Major for that respective division who will conduct further review and officer follow-up, as necessary.   
  7. Digital Recordings as Evidence:
    1. Any digital recording, regardless of level designation, may be used as evidence.
    2. If the digital recording is deemed to be necessary for an officer’s court case, the officer shall create a case file, being sure to classify the recording as a case, and add the digital recording to the case file.
    3. Recordings shall be flagged and saved under their CAD number assigned by Dispatch.
    4. Officers shall utilize their department-assigned Evidence.com account to retrieve recordings.
    5. The digital recording will only be released to attorneys upon the presentation of an original valid subpoena issued by the court that has jurisdiction. All subpoenas will be forwarded to the Records Manager for review before processing. The release will be coordinated by the Office of the Chief of Police.
    6. The Records Manager shall process all judicial requests, including subpoena duces tecum, discovery under rules of evidence or other legal petitions, including requests under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
    7. Any images that are needed for court that have been recorded within areas of VCUHS that have a higher expectation of privacy – at the discretion of the Chief of Police -- shall be reviewed by VCUHS legal counsel prior to external release.
  8. Storage, Retention and Disposal of BWC Digital Recordings:
    1. NOTE:  Per the Code of Virginia § 42.1-85, the Library of Virginia has the authority to issue regulations governing the retention and disposition of state and local public records.  Consequently, VCUPD is governed by the provisions contained in the Library of Virginia’s Records Retention and Disposition Schedule for All State Law Enforcement Agencies (GS-117).

    2. As permitted under GS-117, Series No. 112311 (Recording, Surveillance or Monitoring Systems - Not used as evidence) and Series No. 200219 (Recording, Surveillance, or Monitoring Systems: Large Area - Not used as evidence), VCUPD has established the following retention and disposition schedule for all digital recordings obtained from BWC equipment that are not used as evidence:
      1. Digital recordings shall be retained for a minimum of 180 days
      2. Digital recordings not attached to a case will be automatically purged 180 days after creation
        1. In anticipation of any digital recordings subject to automatic purging, the Operational Support Coordinator or other designated personnel will complete all required Library of Virginia RM-3 Certificate of Records Destruction forms on a semiannual basis. The Operational Support Coordinator will complete the online RM-3 process for approval from the University Record Officer. The University Records Officer will electronically return all signed documentation for final handling.
        2. In accordance with the Virginia Public Records Act (see Va. Code § 42.1 – 76 through 42.1-91), the Records Manager will send all original completed RM-3 forms to the Library of Virginia where they will be retained for fifty (50) years. The Records Manager will retain copies of all signed RM-3 forms as required by GS-101.
      3. Digital recordings entered into evidence will be handled in accordance with applicable evidence retention schedules (see GS-117, Serial No. 200212 – 200215).
  9. Training:
    1. Employees shall be fully trained prior to operating any portion of the BWC equipment.
    2. Training shall be conducted by department-assigned trainers.
    3. Documentation of BWC equipment training and any retraining shall be forwarded to the Training Academy for inclusion in the employee’s training record.
    4. Digital recordings that contain material considered useful for training can be used for that purpose with the permission of the Chief of Police.
  10. Requests to review or obtain a copy of BWC footage:
    1. The Records Manager will process all requests and coordinate with the VCU FOIA Officer to review or copy video/audio recordings in accordance with Virginia FOIA statutes.
    2. All requests for reviewing or copying video/audio recordings will be referred to the Records Manager who shall first determine whether the requester is entitled to review or receive a copy of the recording or whether a legal exemption applies. The VCU FOIA Officer will then either: (a) notify the requester in writing if footage cannot be produced and the reason for the withholding or unavailability; (b) coordinate the date, time and place to allow the requester access to the video/audio recording; (c) or provide the requester with a copy of any releasable footage via Evidence.com.
      1. NOTE: Once an officer receives a request for BWC footage, VCUPD is officially on notice of a FOIA request. The officer shall not instruct the requester to submit the request in writing or otherwise in order to initiate the FOIA process. The officer shall provide the requester’s contact information to the Records Manager for response or, if the requester prefers, provide the requester with the Records Manger’s department contact information.
    3. Any fees and costs associated with duplicating the footage shall also be determined by the Records Manager.
    4. At no time shall any officer let a requester review any portion of a video/audio recording without the prior approval of the Records Manager and/or the Chief of Police.
    5. The Records Manager will review all subpoenas for BWC recordings prior to processing.
    6. Any recording which depicts a discharge of a firearm by an officer, or serious injury or death of any person, will not be shown to requester without prior approval of the Chief of Police.
    7. Any images that have been recorded in VCUHS, in areas that have a higher level of expectation of privacy, shall be reviewed by VCUHS legal counsel prior to external release.
    8. VCUPD personnel will contact the VCU Office of University Counsel as appropriate for assistance with complying with legal requests for video/audio recordings.


Revision History

This policy supersedes the following archived policies:

4/30/2015 - 3-12 Body-Worn Cameras

6/05/2017 - 3-12 Body-Worn Cameras

3/19/2021 - 3-12 Body-Worn Cameras

8/20/2021 - 3-12 Body-Worn Cameras

4/28/2022 - 3-12 Body-Worn Cameras