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Justice Department Orders All Federal Agents to Wear Body Cameras

by Chuck Sharman

On September 1, 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced it was implementing the first phase of its Body-Worn Camera (“BWC”) with federal agents in the Detroit and Phoenix field offices of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (“ATF”).

After the BWC program is expanded over the following few weeks to include all of the ATF’s approximately 2,400 Special Agents, it will then be extended to the DOJ’s other law enforcement personnel in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), the Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”), and the U.S. Marshals Service (“USMS”).

When fully operational, the DOJ will have over 46,000 law enforcement agents wearing BWCs, including almost 5,000 DEA Special Agents, over 35,000 FBI Special Agents, and more than 4,000 Marshals and Deputy Marshals employed by the USMS.

The change represents an about-face for the DOJ, which promised in November 2015 that its agents would not partner with local police wearing BWCs. That position was relaxed in 2019 when the DOJ began a pilot program using the devices in joint task forces with local police, leading ultimately to an October 2020 announcement that the previous blanket restriction had been lifted.

Deputy U.S. Attorney General Lisa Monaco stressed that the use of BWCs is designed to show “the importance of transparency and accountability” in DOJ operations. But she added that the new devices are required only for agents engaged in “pre-planned” activities, such as those involving a warrant for a search or an arrest.

Current DOJ policy allows BWC footage to be released whenever a federal agent is involved in a “pre-planned” activity that results in a death. Whether the devices will be activated for other activities, such as a custodial interview, remains to be seen.

ATF Acting Director Marvin T. Richardson said his agency “welcomes the use” of BWCs, and DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said she and her agency “welcome the addition” of BWCs, too, for “the enhanced transparency and transparency of law enforcement activities they provide.” USMS Director Donald Washington also promised the devices “will increase the transparency of law enforcement activities,” a need that FBI Director Christopher Wray called the cameras “an important way … to meet that need.” 



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