A growing number of police departments have begun using body-worn cameras as tools for transparency and documentation of civilian interactions.

According to govtech.com, 10,500 agencies, or 58 percent of all law enforcement departments in the US, were using body cameras by the end of 2018.

Even though there are many claims about the perceived benefits and negative effects of body cams, which stem from both the media and public opinion, police officers have a strong opinion of their own on the matter.

Results of Survey

Police officer interview 1

A study by researchers at Florida Atlantic University and the University of the West of Scotland is the first to use ethnographic, or qualitative research, to provide deeper insight into law enforcement officers’ personal experiences with and arguments for and against body-worn cameras

They noted that Ferguson often is drawn upon as a reference point among police officers and, in general, the study shows that police officers’ perceptions of the cameras were positive. 

Officers believe that the video footage can protect them like an “extra set of eyes” and provide a better idea of what happens during their public encounters, offering a more complete narrative of what transpired when the facts of an incident are contested.

The study reveals that body cameras have overwhelmingly prompted a new consciousness in law enforcement and, according to one police officer, “have compelled changes in officer behaviors.”

Other positive results of the study show that the cameras also prompted changes in citizens’ behaviors and resulted in reduced numbers of complaints levied against the police because they knew that the officers were capturing video.

Regarding the use of force, researchers noted that Taser use also declined with the adoption of body cameras. Collectively, police officers believe that the cameras can foster a culture of accountability for law enforcement as well as citizens.

Among their concerns, however, are that the body-worn cameras will not overcome negatove public attitudes and bias against police officers. Most of the officers felt that focusing on a few rogue cops and playing discrediting footage across multiple news cycles do little to improve public perceptions of the police.

While the researchers found an increased awareness of procedural justice, they also found a reduction in police morale and an emphasis on proactive policing strategies.

“It is clear that police officers are grappling to understand and come to terms with their diminished role, and declining levels of public respect and cooperation,” said Seth Wyatt Fallik, lead author and Assistant Professor in FAU’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice within the College of Design and Social Inquiry. “Solutions for healing the rift between police and citizens should not solely be the responsibility of the police.”

Examples from Michigan & Texas

Michigan state police 1 scaled

(Image source: flickr.com/photos/joeross)

When body-worn cameras were first introduced into the market, everyone was skeptical about their usefulness. But they have proven they are more than necessary.

A year after Detroit launched a $5.2 million program to outfit officers with body cameras, footage has both exonerated and implicated police officers accused of wrongdoing. The videos have also provided insight into what went right or wrong during critical incidents, allowing supervisors to train officers accordingly, said Assistant Chief, James White.

“The body camera program creates transparency for our officers, which is exactly what it was designed to do,” said White, who wrote the department’s body camera policy. “The videos I’ve reviewed show what I expected; that most of our officers are acting professionally.

“There have also been a few violations and mistakes (captured by the cameras), which gives us a chance to correct what went wrong,” White said.

When a Texas woman accused a State Trooper of sexual assault during a traffic stop, the allegations were promptly and conclusively refuted after a review of video footage gathered from the officer’s body-worn camera revealed no wrong-doing on the Trooper’s part.

According to CNN, it’s difficult to ascertain whether the false claims would have been dismissed as quickly, if at all, had the incident not been captured on camera. Even with a dismissal, a lack of hard video evidence would have cast a haze of doubt over the incident, further intensifying the issue of mistrust and lack of transparency.

In Their Own Words

Police officers

A former police officer explains how a body-worn camera forced her to do everything by the book, even when perhaps it wasn’t in the highest interest of the public.

“At first, I loved it—the impartial third party affixed to my chest. I could review the video when I forgot something a witness told me, letting me include extra details in my reports at the end of the shift. The footage squashed false complaints at a time when it felt like everybody hated the police. I watched my colleagues speak more respectfully to citizens and fellow officers…” explained former officer Miller.

…”But the new system wasn’t without its downsides. My footage was subject to review by my supervisors, who could punish violations of our general orders, no matter how petty. Body cameras provided a piece of evidence shown to judges, juries, and, of course, defense attorneys, who could now pick apart both my recorded voice and my testimony at trial. And it was a public record the mayor sometimes released to local news outlets when there was a use-of-force incident. Seemingly overnight, keeping my job meant doing everything by the book.”

However, this is one officer’s opinion, and we pose the question whether doing everything by the book is a good or bad thing? After all, if doing things by the book creates debate, then perhaps it could even lead to positive changes in police regulations and guidelines. Comment below if you have an opinion!

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