BWCs and Citizen Perceptions

Citizen Perceptions of Body-Worn Cameras: A Randomized Controlled Trial


Police Executive Research Forum (2017) 

Body-worn cameras (BWCs) have become a central topic of policing reforms within the past few years. In the wake of recent high-profile use-of-force cases, many police departments accelerated their plans to implement BWCs. Conservative estimates suggest up to one-third of police departments in the U.S. are using BWCs, with that count increasing rapidly. The rapid adoption of BWCs has outpaced research into the impact that this technology has had on policing. Most studies of BWCs to date focus on two main outcomes, namely officer use of force and citizen complaints against officers. Research points towards significant declines in both of these outcomes due to BWC implementation.

However, the impact of BWCs is believed to go beyond officer use of force and citizen complaints. For instance, police officials often note that there is overall public approval of BWCs, and that implementing a BWC program can help increase perceptions of police legitimacy. However, this rationale had not been rigorously tested until the current study. The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) conducted a randomized controlled trial (RCT) to assess changes in citizen perceptions due to BWC use. With support from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF), PERF was able to conduct this RCT in partnership with the Arlington, TX Police Department (APD). This work builds on PERF’s prior work developing an implementation guide for BWC programs and examines the impact that a BWC program has on citizens’ opinions of the police.

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