Research on Body-worn Cameras

George Mason University - 2019

“Overall, research indicates that the use of BWCs has mixed results on officers and citizen behaviors."

Research

Problem Icon Problem

COMMUNITY NEED

An increasing number of police departments are implementing body-worn cameras (BWCs) in response to increased scrutiny and calls for transparency. However, the amount of research addressing each of the numerous police and community expectations of BWCs is still growing.

RESPONSE

This paper reviews how existing research answers questions surrounding the expectations and concerns surrounding BWCs, as well as discussing policy implications.

Solution Icon Research

PRIMARY RESEARCH QUESTION(S)

  1. Does existing research show that BWCs are effective in positively impacting police organizations and police-community encounters?

  2. What are the implications for police organizations and researchers?

RESEARCH DESIGN

This paper reviewed 70 studies and included any studies or articles that collected either quantitative or qualitative data to research the impact of BWCs.

LIMITATIONS & FUTURE DIRECTIONS

The authors state that this is not a systematic review or meta-analysis due to the breadth of methods and perspectives employed in the research reviewed. There are a number of factors that can affect BWCs and other police technology, including individual officers’ use of the technology and agency factors such as organization, procedures, and culture. All of these highlight the need for more rigorous studies moving forward.

Outcome Icon Outcome

RESEARCH FINDINGS

Impacts of BWCs on Officer Behavior

Complaints

Research has found that officers wearing BWCs receive fewer reported complaints than their counterparts not wearing BWCs. However, whycomplaints decline may be more complicated than the mere presence of a BWC.

Use of Force

Studies of officers’ use of force (UOF) and the relationship with BWCs have led to mixed results. One explanation is the varying levels of discretion officers have in turning the BWC on and off may affect officers’ uses of force. Other confounding factors include agency thresholds for UOF reports and the relatively infrequent nature of UOF reports.

Arrest & Citation Behaviors

No clear patterns emerged in research related to BWCs effect on the arrest and citation behavior of police.

Proactivity

The term “proactivity” included activities such as problem-solving, stop-question-and-frisk, traffic enforcement, community policing and engagement, directed patrol, or use of misdemeanor arrests to reduce disorder.

Studies showed mixed results in whether or not BWCs had a significant impact on officer proactivity.

Considering the very different impacts of and levels of community support for the various proactive practices, future research should focus on “which specific types of proactivity have increased or decreased (and why).”

Impacts of BWCs on Officer Attitude

Many studies showed that once officers start using BWCs, they feel neutral, if not positive towards them or they become most positive over time. Reasons for this may include:

  • Seeing BWCs as a way to protect themselves from complaints
  • Improving the quality and availability of evidence to charge individuals with a crime

Officers’ negative feelings towards BWCs were connected to:

  • technical difficulties
  • the impact on their work or workload
  • the belief the BWC footage could be used against them, making officers more hesitant in their duties.

Larger organizational factors may play a role in officer attitudes towards BWCs. Some studies found that the more officers that felt their agency to be organizationally just, the more positive their attitudes about BWCs.

Impacts of BWCs on Citizen Behavior

Compliance

Research on citizen compliance - measured by assaults on officers, reports of resisting arrest, or officer injuries – provides little support for the idea that BWCs improve it. Six studies showed no significant difference between officers with BWC and those without in assaults on officers and reports of resisting arrest. Three studies showed an increase in assaults.

Willingness to Call & Cooperate

The limited research in this area indicates BWCs may have little impact on citizen’s willingness to call police. However, one survey did find that citizens may be less willing to have an informal chat with a police officer with a BWC.

Crime and Disorder

This is no strong evidence indicating that BWCs have any effect on the amount of crime and disorder in an area.

Impacts of BWCs on Citizen and Community Attitudes

General Support

Overall, citizens have supported the implementation of BWCs and have “high expectations for them with regard to make the police more accountable.” However, this support does appear to have a few stipulations. For instance, non-white and younger individuals are more skeptical about the benefits of BWCs. Conversely, those that had more positive perceptions of police saw more of benefits of BWCs.

Specific Citizen-Police Encounters

BWC appear to have no significant impact on citizen perception of legitimacy, satisfaction with the interaction, or views of police professionalism. Indications of a positive impact may be confounded by the presence of additional interventions to improve citizen satisfaction, such as procedural justice scripts.

Privacy or Fear

Citizen concerns about privacy are unclear. Generally, recent studies show that citizens are not highly concerned about the affect BWCs may have on their privacy.

As for fear, citizens appeared to feel safer when officers were equipped with a BWC. However, based on the findings related to general support of BWCs, there may be variation across different demographics.

Impacts of BWCs on Criminal Investigations

BWCs may increase detection and clearance of criminal investigations. More specifically, BWCs increased the number of domestic violence cases resulting in criminal charges.

BWCs and Police Organizations

“Actual – as opposed to perceived – effects of BWCs on law enforcement organization [are] still not well understood.” Some of the findings prompting further research include:

  • BWC may allow officers to better identify mistakes made during training.
  • The amount of time that it takes agencies to investigate a complaint decreased.
  • Officer burnout may be higher for those with BWCs and there may be a negative effect on officers’ perceptions of how much their agency supports them.
  • BWCs may not significantly impact accountability and organizational traits. This may be because already existing organizational traits will be what shapes BWC policies and practices.

MAIN IMPLICATIONS

The authors set out to review research related to several of the anticipated positive and negative effects of BWCs. In summary:

  • Officers seem supportive of BWCs
  • BWCs have not produced significant changes in officer behavior, in either direction
  • BWCs reduce complaints against officers. However, the mechanism behind this is not well understood.
  • It is not clear if BWCs improve citizen satisfaction with police encounters.
  • BWCs do not seem to decrease proactive activities.
  • Citizens are generally supportive of the use of BWCs, but it is unclear whether or not it improves citizen’s views of police. While adoption of the BWCs made be “a marker of a responsive, transparent, and legitimate” police agency, the actual changes in officer and citizen behaviors made be “modest and mixed.”

CITATION

Lum, C., Stoltz, M., Koper, C. S., & Scherer, J. A. (2019). Research on body‐worn cameras: What we know, what we need to know. Criminology & public policy, 18(1), 93-118.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Accountability and BWC

Police Foundation’s Quantifying and Justifying the Cost of Body-worn Cameras

Police Foundation’s Final Report – Costs and Benefits of Body-worn Cameras

IACP’s Body-worn Camera Model Policy

Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Body-worn Camera Toolkit

ASEBP’s Research Brief of Police Body-worn Cameras: Research Developments on an emerging Technology