Do body-worn cameras contribute to positive effects between law enforcement and the communities they serve?


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Available research consistently shows that officer body-worn cameras (BWC) contribute to a substantial and significant reduction in complaints against law enforcement officers. For example, in Rialto, CA, community member complaints against officers dropped by 88% after BWCs were deployed in the field (Ariel et al., 2014). In Mesa, AZ, BWCs were associated with a 60% decrease in complaints against law enforcement (Mesa Police Department, 2013). In Phoenix, AZ, complaints against officers who wore the cameras declined by 23%, compared to a 10.6% increase among comparison officers and 45.1% increase among patrol officers in other precincts (Katz et al., 2015).

Law enforcement executives agree that BWCs reduce complaints. Former Police Chief Ron Miller of Topeka, KS, stated, "There's absolutely no doubt that having BWCs reduces the number of complaints against officers." (PERF, 2014: 6) The reasons BWCs may cause reductions in community member complaints are not known. During the February 26-27, 2015 Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) BWC Expert Panel, Dr. Michael D. White of Arizona State University highlighted the importance of these findings and noted that the cameras may cause improved behavior ("civilizing effect"), may influence community member reporting rates (less likely to file complaints, especially frivolous complaints), or both. A number of law enforcement executives indicated that their officers have observed that BWCs discourage members of the public from filing unfounded complaints. More research is needed (especially in identifying the underlying cause of the benefit), but the consistency of the complaint reduction findings is notable.

BWCs can improve relationships between law enforcement and communities but are not a panacea, and community engagement should occur before or simultaneous to implementation. Joe Perez, President of the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association - National Capitol Region, stated during the BJA BWC Expert Panel, "in regards to building trust with communities, having a BWC isn't going to build a better relationship with the community. Relationships need to be built before putting on the camera. Just because I put on a camera doesn't mean that it's building a relationship or more trust." Kay Chopard Cohen, Executive Director of the National District Attorneys Association, stated, "If a chief is worried about community relationships, then the chief has to do more than just give an officer a camera. He or she needs to go out and engage the community." Michael Kurtenbach of the Phoenix (AZ) Police Department added, "Develop relationships with the community on the front-end because it's too late to try to make those connections after an incident."

Also during the BWC Expert Panel, Inspector Steve Goodier of the Hampshire Constabulary in the United Kingdom shared highlights from their yearlong study of 180 body-worn videos citing reductions in crime, police-generated incidents, and assaults against police officers. Inspector Goodier further explained that "a large-scale public opinion survey was done before and after program implementation that concluded 85% of the public support for BWC technology. This survey was complemented by an officer survey–an overwhelming positive for support for BWCs.""

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