In the wake of a public outcry for more body cameras on police officers after high profile police shootings, an independent study has concluded that the use of them has no statistically significant impact on police officer behavior.
An organization The Lab @ DC began the analysis two years ago when the District of Columbia Police began equipping officers with body cameras. The hope as expressed in the report was that, “… it would benefit the District by improving police services, increasing accountability for individual interactions, and strengthening police-community relations. The cameras might encourage positive behavioral change and the video footage might be useful as evidence.”
Statistical evidence researchers have gathered since then reveal that is not the case. As a result, the study’s authors concluded that police agencies, “…. should not expect dramatic reductions in documented uses of force or complaints, or other large-scale shifts in police behavior, solely from the deployment of this technology.”
Part of the issue is that the study acknowledges that police misconduct is not a widespread problem in the DC police department. While specific incidents of alleged misconduct may spark community outrage, the vast majority of police work is done competently and professionally, and that would limit any positive impact a body camera could have.
Another possibility is that use-of-force issues before body cameras were employed went largely unreported, and declined after cameras were added. There is no way to determine whether that is true.
There are benefits to body cameras which go beyond officer behavior. A body camera can be used to help either exonerate an officer or confirm officer misconduct when a complaint is filed. In some recent instances where officers used deadly force, body cameras led to a decision not to seek criminal charges against the officer involved, and in some cases even helped lead to the convictions of criminal suspects.
The use of body cam and dash cam video can also be a promotional tool for police departments, allowing them to show their officers in action, as was the case recently during the Las Vegas massacre where body cam footage showed officers attempting to move large numbers of people to safety while a gunman sprayed bullets on them from the Mandalay Bay Hotel.
But body cameras are costly. Currently, neither the Rockford Police Department of Winnebago County Sheriff’s Police use body cameras because of the expense involved. If the goal of the expense of body cameras is to curtail officer misconduct, the study indicates they will not.