Do Body-Worn Cameras Discourage Police Officers from Doing Their Jobs?
In the wake of high-profile police brutality cases, many citizens are calling for police to wear cameras to increase accountability. However, some critics worry that this level of oversight could lead to de-policing or skipping optional activities (as opposed to required responses to dispatch calls).
However, AU researchers recently published results to the contrary. SPA Professor Richard Bennett led an evaluation of police activities in Fairfax, Virginia that showed that officers are not less likely to stop drivers or patrol neighborhoods on foot when they wear body-worn cameras. The findings appear in an article in Police Quarterly, coauthored by Bennett, SPA Senior Professorial Lecturer Brad Bartholomew, Faculty Fellow Sandra Baxter, Adjunct Instructor and Doctoral Candidate Holly Champagne, and Eric Schuler, research methodologist at the AU Center for Teaching, Research and Learning.
To examine the question, the researchers interviewed officers twice: once six months before body-worn camera assignment, and then again six months afterwards. These responses were compared to those from a control group of officers that were not assigned the devices. The expectation was that deterrence and self-awareness effects would lead officers with cameras to initiate fewer encounters, to reduce the risk of potential complaints.
“But what we found is no change in officers’ behavior, before or while they had the cameras, and even after the cameras were briefly withdrawn,” Bennett said.
Analysis of three large, diverse police districts in Fairfax County revealed no significant differences in the number of self-initiated foot patrols or traffic stops made by officers assigned cameras compared to those that were not, at any point in the process.
In fact, police officers claimed not to mind the additional oversight provided by body-worn cameras, since members of the public often use cell phones to video police stops anyway. “Officers came out of our focus groups saying, ‘The camera is a benefit,’” said Bennett. “‘Now I have my story.’”
About half of police departments in the United States use body-worn cameras; the cost, when added to that of video storage requirements, can be high. This study, by showing that officers consider cameras helpful and not a deterrence to their work, can help policymakers make evidence-based decisions when it comes to investing in this new technology.