Do Body Worn Cameras Make the Public Safer?
Police officers have a difficult job. Not only do they have to ensure that they and their partners are safe throughout the day, but they have to live with the public scrutiny that comes with the job. After all, the job of law enforcement officers is to ensure public safety
That scrutiny has certainly increased in recent years. One survey from the Pew Research Center shows that the vast majority of police officers feel that their job has become more difficult due to the high-profile coverage of minority encounters with police officers, and in many cases, the accompanying protests.
There have been a variety of suggestions to protect the public while helping police officers do their jobs. However, one of the more effective tools that can serve both of these objectives is body-worn cameras. Body worn cameras may keep the public safer while providing the proper amount of oversight over police officers in the field.
Body Worn Cameras: The Basics
As you may or may not know, body-worn cameras are cameras worn by police officers as they go out on patrol. These cameras are typically worn on the front of their uniforms. The cameras primarily are used to record officers’ interactions with the community, but they may also be used to record video evidence at crime scenes.
According to proponents, one of the greatest benefits of a body-worn camera is its ability to change behavior. By wearing a camera, police officers are incentivized to behave less aggressively and more respectfully when interacting with individuals during their shift. If police officers too aggressive in using force when encountering an issue on patrol, their superiors, and perhaps the public, will be able to see how the officer reacted.
In other words, proponents of body-worn cameras argue that these cameras present a very strong deterrent for each and every officer. Naturally, this deterrent effect protects the public, as officers will choose the least violent option to de-escalate situations that they encounter in their day-to-day work.
Making the Public Safer
Body-worn cameras sound like a cheap, easy way to protect the public and to help police officers avoid using unnecessary force. That said, one question remains: do they actually make the public safer?
Simply put, the jury is still out.
While experts are still gathering data, there have been multiple studies that show that body-worn cameras can be a tool for police accountability and for supporting officers who behave lawfully. For instance, the San Diego Police Department concluded that a three year trial of officers wearing body worn cameras resulted in significant decreases in misconduct allegations and high-level uses of force. A year-long study of police officers wearing body cameras in Orlando, Florida also showed fewer complaints and less violence. A larger study involving seven different police departments in the United States and the United Kingdom also reached a similar conclusion.
That said, other studies have cast doubt on the use of body-worn cameras as a deterrent. Recently, in a seven-month trial, 1,000 Washington DC police officers were assigned body-worn cameras and 1,000 were not. After tracking things like use-of-force incidents, civilian complaints, charging decisions, and other outcomes, researchers found that the effects of body-worn cameras were too small to be statistically significant.
Ultimately, body-worn cameras have been promising in smaller studies, but less promising in larger studies. While it is nearly impossible to come to a definite conclusion at this time, police departments across the country have begun using body-worn cameras and many have seen positive results.
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While the results are still inconclusive, body-worn cameras may prove effective in the goal to keep the public safe while helping officers do their jobs. Further, body-worn cameras won’t break the bank if you’re interested in checking them out in your local police department.
At BrickHouse Security, we offer a wide variety of products for law enforcement professionals—including body-worn cameras. If you have any questions, we look forward to hearing from you!