Body Cameras: A Study Review

September 22, 2020

Anyone interested in the use of body cams by police should check out this review of 30 studies assembled by Campbell Collaboration—“The Impacts of Body-Worn Cameras in Policing.” Adoption of body cameras by police has risen steeply over the last decade as costs have decreased and concern about police misconduct have escalated. While the intention is to increase transparency and accountability, some have been concerned the practice would discourage the reporting of crimes or cause officers to hesitate to take appropriate proactive or preventative measures.

The review summarizes studies that used either randomized controlled trials or quasi-experimental research designs that measured police or citizen behaviors. The studies reported on a dozen different types of outcome measures and examine 116 effects of the cameras on those outcomes. Most were conducted in single jurisdictions in the US.

So, is the use of body cams doing more good than harm? The write-up summarizes the findings:

“BWCs are one of the most rapidly diffusing and costly technologies used by police agencies today. This review questions whether BWCs bring the expected benefits to the police and their communities. Existing research does not evaluate whether police accountability or police-citizen relationships are strengthened by BWCs. Much more knowledge is needed about when BWCs do create desired effects, and whether they are cost-effective. … For the many police agencies that have already purchased BWCs, researchers should continue testing for ways in which both police and citizens might gain benefits from the cameras’ continued use. These could include limiting the discretion that officers have with BWC use, using BWCs for coaching, training or evidentiary purposes, and finding ways that BWCs can be used to strengthen police-citizen relationships, internal investigations, or accountability systems.”

Count that as a definite maybe. To read the report in full, navigate to its Wiley Online Library page.

Cynthia Murrell, September 22, 2020

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