Is it another question or part of asking this, but are undercover/plainclothed police (ever?) required to be on CCTV?

Some of these people are very talkative, verbal, expressive, often cursing/pejorative/trolllike/suggestive/threatening/tripping/inflamatory/swearing, even angry/sexual/physical, while I am 100% still and quiet, in public and private spaces (specifically, I exclusively go to places with CCTV deliberately/intentionally/consciously, why are these records not part of their case? Why should I need to use a smartphone to record??), just like normal cops told to wear bodycams.

I know wearing a wire is often part of their occupation but that is not the same (in purpose or in use) as what a bodycam records.

I am concerned that many of these officers are not recording themselves when I say nothing and they keep talking. I am observing that they are not just observing.

  • 4
    Not to nitpick but CCTV stands for closed circuit television not the same thing as a body cam.
    – Ron Beyer
    Oct 11, 2021 at 22:19
  • @R I agree, but is a bodycam not the same as a CCTV in terms of being a recording of evidence? (P.S. I upvoted your comment.) Oct 11, 2021 at 22:20
  • @ro I was going to word the question generally in term of requiring a recording for these people too, but the reality is, the words Bodycam and CCTV come to mind before Memory and Law (at least for me for some Reason?). I would be open to the kind of superedits that are sometimes allawed on Stackexchange/Quora where the entire title changes before our eyes and we excuse some keywording entirely once somebody superbold makes the edit and we say okay then. I would ideally work it something like ~"Can law enforcement be forced to be recorded, if I sign my name on some legal document voluntarily?" Oct 14, 2021 at 5:52
  • Ages 13 to 15 going to high school I was on the metro for an hour+ falling asleep the entire time every day and the only adults who talked to me were propositioning me and asked for my phone number, ages 20+ I sit on metro any day and close my eyes for ~5 seconds and within 5 minutes I have undercovers sitting behind me and taunting me by repeating my last blog post keywords. I've recorded audio bc of the frequency of these improv undercover performances. Who is keeping records? #History #13 #14 #15 #16 #17 #18 #19 #20 #Memory #Language #RecordKeeping #RecordingPrivilege #RecordPrivilage? Law? Oct 22, 2021 at 4:37

4 Answers 4


Do undercovers/plainclothes (ever?) wear bodycams?

Yes, but there are different reasons for doing so - it depends on the purpose for having a recording device, what its authorisation allows, and the role of the officer using it as there is are legal differences between a police officer who is:

  • in "plain clothes". Some officers, especially detectives but also those dealing with children or vulnerable adults, are allowed to wear suitable civilian clothing but must be able to identify themselves as police if the need arises (usually this is with a high-visibilty baseball cap or overt tactical vest). If for any reason they need to record an interaction then it should be overt as though they were in uniform and in line with the Body Worn Video Guidance. Any covert recording (which is not an immediate response to events) is to be authorised under the following provisions:

  • deployed on "covert surveillance". Specially trained officers can be authorised to follow and observe suspects without revealing their identity; defined as Directed Surveillance by s.26(2) of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.  This can include using a concealed camera (as opposed to what may be seen as a traditional-looking Bodycam) to overhear and record conversations with other suspects, or taking video footage of important events.  However they are not authorised to interact with a suspect in a way that creates a covert "relationship". For example, one can share a hotel lift with a suspect to film which room they are in, but cannot ask how long they intend to stay - this falls within the following provisions:

  • acting "undercover". Specially trained officers are authorised to be a Covert Human Intelligence Source (CHIS, rhymes with his). They too can use concealed cameras to record evidence but unlike Directed Surveillance, as per s.26(8) of the 2000 Act, they are someone who:

(a) ... establishes or maintains a personal or other relationship with a person for the covert purpose of facilitating the doing of anything falling within paragraph (b) [...];

(b) ... covertly uses such a relationship to obtain information or to provide access to any information to another person; or


Are undercovers/plainclothes (ever?) required to be on CCTV?

No, there is no statutory or regulatory requirement to be filmed in this way but depending on what their role is they may decide to move out of the camera's view.

Also, for completeness (and terrorism legislation aside):

Members of the public and the media do not need a permit to film or photograph in public places and police have no power to stop them filming or photographing [e.g. via CCTV] incidents or police personnel. Source

  • 2
    Thanks for the pronunciation tip which is not what I would have guessed otherwise.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 12, 2021 at 18:03

Wearing bodycams is generally a decision made at a local department by department, or agency by agency basis, as a matter of policy, although there are five states that require them statewide (CA, CT, FL, NV and SC). About half of the states require agencies that use them to have written policies concerning their use but don't necessarily establish what those policies must be:

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia require written policies in order for law enforcement to use or receive funding for body-worn cameras. Legislation sets statutory minimum standards for policies, requires state entities to write or coordinate the development of policies and charges individual departments with creating their own policies. Maryland’s law, for example, requires the Police Training Commission to develop and publish a body-worn camera policy that addresses when recording is mandatory, when it is prohibited, how to handle access for review, retention standards for recordings and consequences for officers who violate the policy or alter recordings. Texas’ law requires individual departments to have policies that include a data retention period of at least 90 days, procedures for officer access to recordings and reporting requirements for documenting equipment malfunction. The law also prohibits any policy from requiring that officers film their entire shift. South Carolina requires departments to submit their policies to the Law Enforcement Training Council for approval. Utah’s law requires agencies using body cameras to mandate in their policies that officers wear them while executing search warrants.

In addition to state laws there are also "invisible" pressures to adopt bodycam policies from insurance providers for law enforcement agencies that increase the premiums of some agencies, especially those with a history of claims that don't adopt better policies.

I am not aware of any such jurisdiction that requires bodycams for undercover officers at it would generally blow their cover unless it is a "wire" type hidden camera used for a particular event to create evidence rather than to document potential misconduct.

A department or agency could make such a policy, but I am not aware of any serious effort to do so.

"Plain clothes" officers aren't necessarily "undercover", however, and I don't know whether there are any bodycam requirements for them. The usual idea is that "Plain clothes" officers are less prone to be in the exigent, confusing, physical situations for which bodycams were seen as a solution, and a non-undercover Plain clothes officer might still have a service provided vehicle with a dash-cam.

One survey of body cam policies of a semi-representative sample of agencies that I've seen doesn't address this particular issue, and many agencies aren't even very clear about when an officer has to record (including Denver, where I live).

Even if a law enforcement agency does have a policy, the fact that the officers didn't follow it is usually just something that can be mentioned by defense counsel in a criminal defense case (through an appropriate witness), and this doesn't always confer affirmative legal rights upon people who deal with policy (public access rights to bodycam footage varies greatly).

The vast majority of law enforcement policies in the U.S. are made at the law enforcement agency level, by an elected official or legislative body (e.g. an elected sheriff, a mayor, or a city council), by a political appointee (e.g. a police chief appointed by the mayor, or a city manager), by a board of political appointees (such as a public university board of regents) appointed by one or more elected officials, or in some state and federal law enforcement agencies, by a senior civil servant who is not politically appointed (e.g. the director of the U.S. Navy's criminal investigation service, NCIS, that spawned a long running police procedural television show).

The United States has the most decentralized law enforcement system in the world. There are something like 10,000 local law enforcement agencies in the U.S. (employing something like 90% of all law enforcement officers), there are several hundred independent law enforcement agencies within the federal government, and there are dozens of independent law enforcement agencies within most state governments. Even within a single U.S. county (of which there are about 3,000 in the U.S.) there would usually be several completely independent local government law enforcement agencies with their own policies on a variety of issues including bodycams.

For example, in Adams County, Colorado (one of sixty-four counties in the State), the elected sheriff establishes one set of policies for his or her deputies (sworn investigator for the elected county coroner could in principle have separate policies as it is a separate independent law enforcement agency). The municipal governments of the cities of Arvada, Aurora, Brighton, Commerce City, Federal Heights, Northglenn, Thornton, and Westminster and the Towns of Bennett and Lochbuie, each have police departments lead by a police chief responsible to the city or town council and a mayor or city manager that sets its own policies. The Regional Transportation District that serves the county with bus and local passenger rails service has its own law enforcement agency with its own policies. Some of the larger school districts have "resource officers" or security departments that have sworn law enforcement officers with their own policies. And, some other special districts might also have their own law enforcement agencies (e.g. a community college, or library district, or water district with a security department that has sworn law enforcement officers).

Each of these agencies adopts its own bodycam policies subject to very lax state policies (or federal policies in the case of federal law enforcement agencies) that provide bare outlines of the kinds of policies that are permissible or not (to the extent that there are any state policies on the topic at all). Usually, even state governments, which have constitutional carte blanc to regulated local government law enforcement agencies, in practice, have only very limited influence over local government law enforcement agencies policies.

  • 3
    @prosody-GabVereableContext As far as I know there are no law enforcement agencies in the U.S. or Canada with such policies. But given that there are tens of thousands of such agencies making decisions on a decentralized basis, it would be easy to miss a rare exception.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 11, 2021 at 23:55
  • 1
    Good links. Are hhey authoritative? I read every part, and the About pages. Is that all there is, law creates policy/policies that does not have a written record? Oct 13, 2021 at 4:14
  • 1
    @prosody-GabVereableContext The issue is not so much an absence of written policies as mass decentralization. The United States has the most decentralized law enforcement system in the world. The federal government alone has hundreds of distinct and independent law enforcement agencies each with their own policies. The vast majority of law enforcement in the U.S. is at the local government level. Centralized federal and state policies are generally quite lax.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 13, 2021 at 20:45
  • 2
    @prosody-GabVereableContext "I've read the U.S. is the most centralized government in the world" definitely not, and especially not in the area of law enforcement. Something like 90% of law enforcement officers are in local government and both state and federal law enforcement are fragmented. There are some fairly uniform constitutionally derived standard of criminal procedure, but a requirement to wear or use a body camera is not among them (for the obvious reason that the notion that this would even have been possible didn't even exist until 200 years after the Bill of Rights was adopted).
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 13, 2021 at 21:33
  • 1
    @prosody-GabVereableContext In many countries, the lion's share of law enforcement officers are part of a single national law enforcement bureaucracy with a single chain of command and uniform policies. And, many important de facto policies of any one of the 10,000 + particular U.S. law enforcement agencies aren't codified in writing in formally adopted policies at all (something that U.S. civil rights laws acknowledge; you can sue to overturn an unwritten government policy that is unconstitutional).
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 13, 2021 at 21:36


"NYC mayor says the plainclothes police unit will work differently this time around His administration has not yet given specifics about how officers in the unit will work, but he's promised that this time around it will be a different."

"[...] every time they left their homes, they felt they were going to get jumped [by plainclothes]."

"They will wear body cameras."



"The new directive will go into effect immediately, meaning plainclothes officers in the city will wear body cams at all times, with a few exceptions.


There are three exceptions to the order, including:

Personnel assigned as liaisons to federal, state, or county agencies will be guided by those agencies' policies.

Officers assigned to surveillance duties only will not be required to wear a bodycam. However, all officers assigned to the "take-down" arrest in such cases must wear the bodycam.

Officers who make a written request to the public safety director and receive his or her authorization not to wear the bodycam, but those requests must give the operational or safety reasons for not wearing the bodycam."


After asking and facing disbelief (and being in Baltimore, law has not changed yet?), I for one am happy (relief) for the reqirement/necessity I correctly predicted.


"Undercover officers or confidential informants will not be recorded, unless requested by the undercover officer or their supervisor in the furtherance of an investigation."

"Officers should not record undercover officers or confidential informants, absent supervisor approval under limited circumstances."

"When knowingly in the presence of an undercover officer or informant, unless recording is requested by the undercover officer;"

"When interacting with undercover officers or confidential informants, or persons providing information based on confidentiality, unless necessary for a law enforcement investigation or to comply with the Mandatory Recording situations described in this policy."

"The body worn recording system SHALL NOT:. . . Be used to record confidential informants or undercover officers unless approved by a Sergeant or above."

Source A Source B

Theoretically, a uniformed officer could partner with undercover officers to ensure there was a recording available in some capacity of the law, and that could even be the legal rationale to encourage these individuals to record their work if a CCTV is not available? As I quoted, this means this could be enforced?

  • So theoretically, a uniform could partner with undercovers to ensure there was a recording available in some capacity of the law, and that could even be the legal rationale to encourage these individuals to record their work if a CCTV is not available? As quoted means this could be enforced? (Mirrored from my comment thanking @ohwilleke at law.stackexchange.com/questions/73606/… for the source.) ...what legal requirements are there to make this happen regularly to ensure there is a recording? Oct 13, 2021 at 14:45
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    While it is good to quote and cite a source, it is also helpful to add a conclusion or summery of one's own, distilling the information from the source(s) Oct 13, 2021 at 18:08
  • @da I consciously thought it was best to just quote the policies. When tied to the question, the quotes in the answer are explainable.? I appreciate the feedback, but I appreciate some things on StackExchange/Quora are allowed just a quote. I edited law.stackexchange.com/revisions/73655/3, I'm just repeating myself deliberately at that point (the only option given current law/policy is that, for example then, some jurisdictions may allow for undercovers to volunteer to allow a uniformed officer to record their encounters, if that was considered honorable n' justified as a helpful idea. Oct 13, 2021 at 22:20
  • I don't say a quote-only answer is not allowed, I do think one that has some analysis is normally better, and i for one am much more likely to up-vote it. Oct 14, 2021 at 7:37
  • @D What about my reasoning/analysis, as added to the record, then? (P.S. I am amazed and never expected that Quora/Stackexchange would make priorities of English Grammar over how I speak normally in real-life online n' offline the same speaking, nor did I imagine how many might judge me 4 emulating the format of most of the actual submissions to Stack/Quora most of which are hidden from view which many do not know about, making people like me look like we said just nothing, when we actually have said alot to give context and analysis to our questions.) Why is my Style a priority over Quotes? Oct 14, 2021 at 14:18

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