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Does wearing a body camera change police behavior?

Over the last several years there has been significant contentious talk around the country regarding the use of video by law enforcement during interactions with the public. Many people have called for its use to call out inappropriate behavior. One study however suggests that officers wearing a body camera did not cause any significant change in incidents of force or complaints. 

Video used to determine proper interaction

It should be made clear that the use of video by police can be very useful for things like confirming statements or reviewing actions from a specific complaint. Video can also be used for training and allowing police to be more transparent with the public. But this study only focused on how a body camera effected oversight by the police and if they were inclined to become abusive or unprofessional during an interaction. The study concluded that on every determinable factor, when officers were wearing cameras, there was the same amount of force and complaints by the public as when officers were not wearing a body camera.

Does video change behavior?

The outcry for police to use body cameras was an idea that aimed to curb aggressive actions. It would do this by letting law enforcement know that their actions can now be watched. This idea is not far-fetched, since there has been plenty of research concluding that when people feel they are being watched, they will change their behavior. However, in this study, this was not the case as police behavior did not change.

Why did police behaviors not change after wearing a body camera?

This study was conducted using police officers from Washington D.C. during a seven-month period and the cameras were randomly assigned. What conclusions can be made?

One possible conclusion is that the police officers were more concerned with acting the same way they have always done and were not concerned about the cameras. In this case, the police officers may have been so ingrained on how they did their job, nothing was going to change how they went about their daily work. The results of the study showed no change from a time when no body cameras were used, implying officers will do their job regardless if being monitored.

It can also be concluded that police officers may already feel there is a chance they are being recorded even without having a body camera on themselves. Between cell phone cameras, dash cams, surveillance cameras and traffic cameras, it can be hard to feel you are in public without already being watched. Also, when a police officer arrives on a scene, it can garner a lot of attention from bystanders, giving the constant feeling they are always being watched.

Regardless if the use of a body camera changes the behavior of a police officer, there are many instances when the police are on the scene of an incident and the video that is captured can be critical evidence during a case. Police body cam video can have many more uses than just monitoring the actions of an officer.

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