The recent review of the evidence supporting Pillar 3 Recommendations in the final report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing raises several important issues related to police body-worn cameras (BWCs). The first issue involves the small but rapidly growing body of research on police. When the President’s Task Force final report was released in May 2015, there were only a handful of studies available that empirically assessed the impact of police BWCs. In the last 18 months, law enforcement leaders and researchers have collaborated to quickly advance the knowledge base on BWCs. In that time a number of important studies have been published and dozens more are underway. This research has identified a number of important themes.
For example, the research has consistently shown that officers are generally supportive of BWCs, and their support increases after they begin wearing the cameras (Gaub et al., 2016; Jennings et al., 2014). Research also suggests that citizen support for BWCs is high—among both the general population (Sousa et al., 2015) and citizens who interact with police and have those interactions recorded (White et al., 2016a; 2016b). Several studies have also documented the evidentary value of BWCs for criminal cases (Owens et al., 2014; Morrow et al., 2016). Much of the research has also focused on the impact of BWCs on citizen complaints against officers and the use of force. Though there are mixed findings regarding the impact of BWCs on force and complaints, the weight of the available evidence documenting positive effects is persuasive (Ariel et al., 2015; Hedberg et al., 2016; Jennings et al. 2015; Mesa Police Department, 2013). In sum, our understanding of the potential impact of BWCs has advanced considerably in a short period of time.
The second important issue raised in the recent “Evidence-Assessment” report involves the cost and complexity of implementing a BWC program, as well as the attendant wide range of factors that come into play. A BWC program has implications for nearly every unit in a police department, civilian and sworn. State law, the local political environment, the internal police culture, and the nature of the police-community relationship all affect the implementation and healthy functioning of a BWC program. As a consequence, the impact of a BWC program may vary considerably across agencies. Did the agency engage in a deliberate, collaborative planning process? Does the agency have a clear and comprehensive administrative policy? Does the agency monitor officer compliance with administrative policy? Has the city and agency leadership accounted for the ongoing costs associated with management of the BWC program? Do citizens support the deployment of BWCs in their jurisdiction? Will changes in the local political climate affect support for the BWC program? Answers to all of these questions likely affect the impact and consequences of a BWC program, and it is clear there are many important questions left to explore.
Nevertheless, our knowledge regarding BWCs has progressed at a very impressive rate. We know much more now than we did 18 months ago, when the final report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing was released. And given the considerable resources and expertise marshaled by the U.S. Department of Justice, local law enforcement agencies, and policing researchers from the U.S. and abroad, I have no doubt our understanding of BWCs and their impact will continue to grow at an exponential rate.