Resources about Research on BWCs and Related Issues

In View: A Response to President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing in Relation to BWCs

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.

The city of Clarksville, Tenn. is searching for an opinion on BWC's

The Clarksville police department is asking for help. The police department is asking the residents of Clarksville to complete a survey on if they support the use of body-camera's. Clarksville is currently in the process of applying for a government grant that will be used to fund body worn camera's for the city's police officers.

Click here to read more.

In View: BWCs and Police Accountability

Concerns about racial disparity in police actions have prompted a large number of responses from governmental, advocacy, and police groups. Various reports have documented such disparities in the patterns of traffic stops, stop and frisk searches, arrests, officer-involved shootings, and deaths in custody. Efforts to understand and respond to the apparent disparities in how minority citizens are treated by the police have taken many forms. Motivated in part by the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing report, body-worn cameras (BWCs) have assumed a primary role in efforts to build bridges between the police and the community. Funding made available by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) in 2015 to 73 law enforcement agencies (with additional funds made available in 2016) to support the purchase and implementation of body-worn cameras has hastened the spread of this technology. The use of BWCs has been supported by the Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Toolkit, developed by Dr. Charles M. Katz and Dr. Michael D. White, as well as a larger set of resources available at the BJA website. In addition, there is a weekly BWC newsletter that is part of a broader Training and Technical Assistance effort on the part of the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

An explicit focus on the growing use of BWC by law enforcement is to increase transparency and thereby enhance police accountability to the public. One salient aspect of such an approach is the desire to reduce disparities in the treatment of citizens by the police. Implicit in this approach is the idea that most police–citizen encounters do not reflect bias.

BWCs and Socially Desirable Behavior

A voluminous body of research across various disciplines has shown that when humans become self-conscious about being watched, they often alter their conduct. Accumulated evidence further suggests that individuals who are aware that they being-observed often embrace submissive or commonly-accepted behavior, particularly when the observer is a rule-enforcing entity. What is less known, however, is what happens when the observer is not a “real person”, and whether being videotaped can have an effect on aggression and violence.

Efficacy of Police Body Cameras for Evidentiary Purposes

IACP logo
Source: IACP

Human eyes and camera lenses see, process, and recall information differently. It is important to understand the differences before using camera footage in use-of-force (UOF) or officer-involved shooting (OIS) investigations. The ramifications for not understanding the differences include inappropriate or unfair disciplinary actions, increased liability, and potential wrongful incarceration. Body cameras are the wave of the future in law enforcement and are already showing their many positive contributions. As with all new technologies, there will be growing pains and learning curves.

You can read this article online here

The Lessons of Albuquerque

ACLU logo
Source: ACLU

The Albuquerque department has been the subject of a Justice Department investigation in which body cameras were adopted in 2012 in the wake of controversy over police shootings, along with a requirement that officers use them to document civilian encounters.However, the cameras have hardly proven to be a solution to the department's problems. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico has been leading the way in pushing for reform of the Albuquerque police department, with its advocacy having for example played a key role in prompting the Justice Department's investigation. 

You can read this article online here.