If only police wore body cameras…
“Body cameras will reduce violence.”
“Wear a camera and assaults against officers will decrease.”
“There will be less incidents of force by officers if they’re forced to wear body cameras.”
Those were just some of the comments we heard when the issue of police body cameras first began to emerge. So yes, police officers across the U.S. have begun to wear cameras as part of their duty gear, but the results of their use are a bit surprising.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge worked with eight police forces across the UK and US—West Midlands, Cambridgeshire and Northern Ireland’s PSNI, as well as Ventura, California and Rialto, California. The research (a large study involving 2,122 officers, 2.2 million officer-hours, and interaction with 2 million citizens) was comprised of ten randomized-controlled trials where officers either wore body cameras that were switched on the entire time of their shifts, did not wear body cameras, or they wore cameras but were permitted to switch them on or off at the officers’ discretion.
- Use of force incidents by officers wearing cameras fell by 37% (suspects readily complied with officer commands).
- Use of force rose by 71% among officers who were permitted to switch cameras on and off at their discretion.
- The rate of assaults against officers wearing cameras increased by 15% as opposed to non-camera-wearing officers.
- Assaults against officers were greater in number when the officer told a suspect they were being recorded or when they announced they were switching on their cameras.
- Officers wearing cameras reported more assaults against them as opposed to the officers who were not wearing cameras. It’s thought that officers wearing cameras felt they could report assaults because they had video proof of the incidents.
Further study is needed to determine if wearing a body camera causes officers to feel less confident/self-assured which could result in being more vulnerable and susceptible to assault. This could be the cause for the increase in number of attacks against camera-wearing officers.
An odd thing about the study is that it showed the results varied from one area to another, meaning that camera use in one location within a city may produce a different reaction in another. For example, the presence of a body camera could be welcomed in the south side of AnyTown, but in the north side the presence of a body camera they might anger those residents. The same is true from town to town. Town A citizens might love seeing their officers wearing cameras. However, Town B citizens may feel resentment or enticed to use violence against the officers who’re recording their actions.
My take on the study results – body cameras may or may not be a good thing, and whether they are or are not is controlled by a number of influences over both the police and citizens, including human judgement, human error, and even human emotion—fear, shame, pride, etc. So, like anything else where split second decisions are made…it depends. That’s my answer and I’m sticking to it…maybe.