How Body Cameras Affect Community Members Perceptions of Police

Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial of One Agency's Pilot

- by Dave McClure, Nancy G. La Vigne, Mathew Lynch, Laura Golian
Aili Malm, Daniel Lawrence

Police body-worn cameras (BWCs) are being rapidly and widely adopted by law enforcement. As a result, the question "How should police use body-worn cameras?" is becoming more relevant than "Should police use body-worn cameras?" While past studies have been informative about the benefits and limitations of BWCs, they have also been limited in their understanding of the best practices for this technology.

To address this knowledge gap about the use of BWCs, the Urban Institute evaluated two different implementations of the cameras in a single police department. The study focused on the intersection of BWCs and procedural justice behaviors among officers by collecting community surveys and departmental administrative records. Analyses revealed the following:

->> Community members' satisfaction with police was more positively influenced by officers' procedurally just practices than by the presence of a body-worn camera alone.

->> Community members had difficulty accurately remembering whether an officer was wearing a camera.

->> Officers prescribed to inform residents of the presence of a BWC were more likely to activate cameras, while officers responding to more calls for service activated their cameras less often.

->> Officers with BWCs made slightly fewer arrests than similar officers without BWCs.

Project Overview
Urban, in partnership with California State University, Long Beach, implemented a randomized controlled trial evaluation to assess the impact of cameras alone as well as cameras coupled with procedurally just practices. The study focused on four questions:

1. How do BWCs affect community members' attitudes about the police officers with whom they interact and about the police department?
2. Does community members' satisfaction with their interactions with police change with the presence and mention of BWCs?
3. Do officers vary in their propensity to activate their BWCs during encounters with the public?
4. How do the presence and uses of BWCs influence officers' behavior?

The study took place in an economically and socially diverse city in the south western United States. The police department there, which was already using audio-only recording devices, was beginning a BWC program. Sixty officers volunteered to participate in the study. Each officer was randomly assigned.... full article text

Members of the public often do not accurately remember whether police officers with whom they interact are wearing body worn cameras (BWC). Yet despite this poor recall, this randomized controlled trial of BWC use in a single jurisdiction finds that community members are more satisfied with police encounters when the officer is wearing a body camera. While application of procedurally just practices is associated with greater levels of resident satisfaction with police than just wearing a camera, combining the two produces even higher ratings of police. These findings suggest that policies on camera use may enhance the technology's ability to improve interactions between police and the public.

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