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Debates on Police Body Cameras

Adoption of Body-Worn Cameras

Over the past several years, there has been a growing concern over police misconduct following numerous high profile officer-involved shootings and use-of-force cases. Various communities across the country believe the trust has eroded between the public and police. In response to this law enforcement agencies began to adopt body cameras. Policy makers, victims’ families, civil rights groups, and some police administrators are calling to action equipping officers with body-worn cameras (BWC) (Ramirez, E.P. 2014).The implementation of Body Cameras is currently causing a worldwide debate across groups such as the Police Foundation, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Police Executive Research Forum and the American Civil Liberties Union. The city of Rialto was the first police department to conduct an experiment on Body-worn cameras. The study showed promising results for the introduction of cameras.  However, the decision to implement BWCs is not without controversy. Body-worn cameras will improve police officer conduct and citizen behavior, reduce complaints against officers, assist in criminal procedures , facilitate officer training, and most importantly increase accountability and transparency by building trust between officers and their community ( Miller, L et al 2014).

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According to the Washington Post Database contains every fatal shooting in the United States by a police officer since 2015. Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) leads the nation in total number of fatal police shootings and use of force incidents for the third consecutive year (Sullivan, John 2017). Implementing body worn cameras will reduce exposure to litigation by promoting police accountability and help reduce citizen complaints against police officers. The Rialto study examined whether body-worn cameras would have an impact on the number of complaints filed against police. It concluded reduced use-of-force incidents by 59 percent and also reduced citizen complaints by a remarkable 87 percent (Ramirez, E.P. 2014). A similar study in Mesa, Arizona also demonstrated shifts without devices had roughly three times as many citizen complaints. These statistics support the claim that cameras have the real potential to reduce money on litigation costs by supplying irrefutable evidence of events. In addition to costs, footage also provides better documented encounters and quality report writing for local prosecutors .Police executives said that body-worn cameras have significantly improved how officers capture evidence for investigations and court proceedings. Critics such as International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) are concerned with the inability to capture a multi-dimensional perspective of an event and recommends an objective investigation beyond the scope of BWC (Jennings, W.G. et al. 2014).  Some police executives are concerned with judges and juries have come to rely heavily on camera footage as evidence, and some judges have even dismissed a case when video did not exist (Miller, L et al. 2014). Purely from an accountability perspective, these devices should not be viewed as a tool to address citizen complaints, assist in investigations, and minimize frivolous claims against police officers.

In addition to police accountability, video footage can strengthen offender accountability by providing clear evidence of both the suspect’s attitude, actions, and statements. If people know they are being surveillanced they are more apt to comply. In other words a deterrence effect is presented. Individuals who represent civic groups, such as American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) , also advocate BWC as a remedy to improve police-public encounters (Mateescu, A., & Rosenblat, A. 2015)

Although BWC’s do not necessarily address the root of citizen complaints, like racism and abuse of power, supporters hope to improve police-community relations by enhancing legitimacy. In fact, evidence displays BWC’s positively impact both citizen perceptions toward the police, and also officers attitudes and behaviors towards the community. Thus, police legitimacy and community trust are beneficial outcomes (Sacca, G. 2017 ).

Research has proved combination of proactive and community policing are vital in today’s society. Data from BWC can be used for individualized coaching, training, and promote professionalism. Furthermore, footage need not only to depict areas improvement, but also model expectations and serves as training tool to evaluate officers performance (Coudert, F et al. 2015). Law enforcement agencies disproportionately use aggressive tactics, such as SWAT and stop and frisk, etc., in communities of color. Specifically, young black men are twenty-one more times to be targeted by police in comparison to whites (Chavis, K. 2017). BWC footage can contribute to police officers’ training and illustrate how to perform and react to difficult encounters with the public. Researchers surveyed police departments and found 94 percent of respondents used footage to train officers by developing scenario-based, evaluations, and areas needing improvement.(Chavis, K, 2017). Evidence clearly aids law enforcement managers with identifying and correcting systemic problems or individual officer issues. Despite lack of confidence in law enforcement, especially in communities of color, research has shown the public is inclined to follow the law when they believe in the legitimate authority of those enforcing it (Maskaly, J. et al. 2017).

A common theme when analyzing police tactics and community relations across the nation a concerning diminished police transparency. A recent report from the US Department of Justice mentions transparency will increase as police departments implement BWC ( Gaub, J. E., et al. (2016). The footage will allow departments to review and respond expeditiously and confidently following incidents, address policy and use of force violations, and ultimately re-establish confidence with the public.

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Limitations of increased transparency include privacy related issues such as, free speech issues, embarrassing footage, and possibility of identifying suspect’s in additional crimes. Some witnesses and community members may be hesitant to come forward with information if they know their statements will be recorded . They may fear retaliation, worry about their own privacy, or not feel comfortable sharing sensitive information on camera (Maskaly, J. et al. 2017).

Skeptics and Critics have identified two main concerns and recommendations with respect to privacy issues. Police officers often encounter victims, suspects, and witness in vulnerable situations, therefore certain guidelines should be evaluated with respect to obtaining consent. A report conducted by COPS (Office of Community Oriented Policing) suggests requiring officers to obtain consent before interviewing citizens (Chavis, K. 2017).

Groups such as ACLU and National Organization for Women(NOW) highly support specific policies should clearly provide direction to officers regarding the use of cameras in situations involving children, youth or minors, or vulnerable adults. (Nolin, J. 2015 ). Similarly, those in opposition are also concerned with discretion of officers to power on and off. They believe the decision to switch on and off defeat the major purpose examining crucial decision-making process in police behavior (Maskaly, J. et al. 2017) Proponents suggest video footage should be made available to the public upon request, not only because the videos are public records but also because doing so enables police departments to demonstrate transparency and openness in their interactions with members of the community (Smykla, J. O. et al. 2015). In order for true transparency to be effective, the public must have confidence in law enforcement. Law enforcement has successfully implemented the use of audio recordings and dash cameras for the past several years. The use of BWCs, therefore, should not be difficult to implement. Despite BWC’s raising  a few privacy concerns, supporters believe transparency and accountability benefits would exceed their privacy risks (Ariel, B. et al. 2016).

Recently, use of force and police behavior has been a dominant topic in the media featured by high-profile police shootings and calls for action to address these issues. Like other new forms of technology, body-worn cameras have the potential to transform the field of policing. These cameras will help promote agency accountability and transparency, and they can be useful tools for increasing officer professionalism, improving officer training, and preserving evidence. Implement policies that balance accountability, transparency, and privacy rights, as well as preserving the important relationships that exist between officers and members of the community . Although BWC posses many great qualities, be mindful to its limitations and recognize they are only one tool in a swiss-army knife approach”(Smykla, J.O. 2015).


  • Ariel, B., Sutherland, A., Henstock, D., Young, J., Drover, P., Sykes, J., … & Henderson, R. (2017). “Contagious accountability” a global multisite randomized controlled trial on the effect of police body-worn cameras on citizens’ complaints against the police. Criminal justice and behavior, 44(2), 293-316.
  • Chavis, K. N. (2016). Body-Worn Cameras: Exploring the Unintentional Consequences of Technological Advances and Ensuring a Role for Community Consultation. Wake Forest L. Rev., 51, 985.
  • Coudert, F., Butin, D., & Le Métayer, D. (2015). Body-worn cameras for police accountability: Opportunities and risks. Computer law & security review, 31(6), 749-762.
  • Gaub, J. E., Choate, D. E., Todak, N., Katz, C. M., & White, M. D. (2016). Officer perceptions of body-worn cameras before and after deployment: A study of three departments. Police quarterly, 19(3), 275-302.
  • Jennings, W. G., Fridell, L. A., & Lynch, M. D. (2014). Cops and cameras: Officer perceptions of the use of body-worn cameras in law enforcement. Journal of Criminal Justice, 42(6), 549-556.
  • Maskaly, J., Donner, C., Jennings, W. G., Ariel, B., & Sutherland, A. (2017). The effects of body-worn cameras (BWCs) on police and citizen outcomes: A state-of-the-art review. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 40(4), 672-688.
  • Mateescu, A., & Rosenblat, A. (2015). Police body-worn cameras.
  • Miller, L., & Toliver, J. (2014). Implementing a body-worn camera program: Recommendations and lessons learned. Police Executive Research Forum.
  • Nolin, J. (2015). Police body cameras use will lead to legal and policy issues as adoption increases. American City & County Exclusive Insight, 6.
  • Ramirez, E. P. (2014). A report on body worn cameras. Retrieved from http://issuu.com/ccyancey/docs/la_bodycam_report.
  • Sacca, G. (2017). Not just another piece of equipment: an analysis for police body-worn camera policy decisions (Doctoral dissertation, Monterey, California: Naval Postgraduate School).
  • Sullivan, John (2017). Number of fatal shootings by police, Washington Post. Retrieved                 https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/national/police-shootings-2018/?utm_term=.b0fe6cb28430


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