The College of Policing, the Metropolitan Police Service, and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime designed and implemented the largest randomized controlled trial of body-worn video (BWV) cameras to date, to test its impact on a range of outcomes, including criminal justice outcomes, complaints made against the police, stop and search, officer attitudes, and public experience. This article summarizes the finding of the trial relating to interactions between the police and the public, drawing on analysis of surveys and interviews with officers and a range of administrative data.
Police body-worn cameras (BWCs) are an increasingly prominent research area in criminal justice. This trend mirrors current practice, with more and more law enforcement agencies implementing or procuring BWCs. Yet the evidence on BWCs is substantially long on evidence but rather short on theory. Why should BWCs ‘work’ and under what conditions or on whom? This article offers a more robust theoretical composition for the causal mechanisms that can explain the efficacy of BWCs.
Since mid-2014, a number of police killings of residents has produced public outrage, civil disorder, and strong antipolice sentiment, especially among minority residents. Since 2015, the White House, Congress, and the U.S. Department of Justice have strongly supported the adoption of BWCs by police. Research on BWCs has grown rapidly, and over the past few years we have learned a great deal about the impact and consequences of the technology. The growing body of research allows us to take a step back and assess the veracity of some of the most important claims about the technology.
Police cruisers across America; showcase such popular catch phrases as, “To Protect and To Serve” or, “Serving Our Community”. Perhaps replacing these phrases with a more tangible creed would be appropriate, such as, “Transparency, Accountability, and Officer Compliance.” With departments racing to outfit their officers with body worn camera’s (BWCs), there are not only concerns about transparency, accountability and officer compliance but also funding, training and policy. The question commonly asked is, “Is it worth it or not?” In the meantime, BWCs are being deployed to police departments all over the world. Dealing with the topics of transparency, accountability, and officer compliance should start with a sound policy. Almost every department deploying BWCs has a policy in place, primarily to tell the officers what they are allowed and not allowed to do regarding BWCs. The policies inform officers when they must activate, deactivate, mute, and so on. There are consequences for those who do not follow the rules, whether or not non-compliance is deliberate. Individual departmental policies vary considerable regarding the types of events where cameras shall or must be activated or deactivated. Clarity is important, but policies cannot anticipate every conceivable circumstance. So what happens when officers enter ambiguous situations that BWC policies do not address explicitly?
Keep Calm and Remember Your Training
Compliance begins with training and training should include a good mix of policy, state and Federal laws, and hands-on practice with the camera technology. It is critical that officers understand the importance of the BWC and why it is being used. Officers being taught BWC policy and laws will quickly learn what they can and cannot do under routine circumstances. Policy should address protocols such as; how and when to use the BWC, what to do when there is a malfunction or loss and what types of events to record. Each department will fine tune its own policies according to what works best for the communities its officers serve. Officers should also be trained on what their rights are when complaints or allegations arise regarding the use of BWCs. If a department has officers who work off-duty jobs regularly, the regulations regarding off-duty job should be clearly outlined as well. Hands on scenario training and written tests, can help determine whether the officer fully understands the BWC policy.
A Manager says, “Go”, A Leader says, “Let’s Go”
A well-trained and knowledgeable supervisor can help settle officers’ uneasiness regarding BWCs. Supervisors should be trained in the same manner as their officers, and should use discretion regarding minor noncompliance issues involving their officers. If it is determined that a willful and serious compliance violation has occurred, then the appropriate punishment should be administered as per departmental policy. For example, an officer loses his BWC during a foot chase and waits several weeks to report the loss, continuing his duties without a BWC. This could have serious repercussions for the officer and the department. Supervisors play a very important role in making sure that their Officers are in compliance and more important, that they stay in compliance.
Houston We Have a Problem
During a recent training exercise, an officer asked a question regarding accountability: “When I pull my firearm, my hands and forearms are in the way of the BWC and you are unable to see the video clearly. Do I move the BWC or my hands?” The very act of asking this question (though no questioning should be discouraged) could indicate a compromise of officer safety. Officer safety always comes first-so in this case, don’t worry about the camera. Is this a compliance issue? I suggest that it is definitely not. If an officer is approached by a member of the community in a non-threatening manner that quickly turns violent, the officer doesn’t have time to turn on the BWC, so this should not be a compliance violation. Policy should reflect that encounters such as these may happen. In the event of such an occurrence, officers and supervisors should have the confidence and understanding that it will not be considered a compliance violation. Some states such as Texas-in Senate Bill 158, allow that an officer may deactivate the BWC during any non-confrontational encounter with a person. For accountability purposes, the officer is required to document why he or she did not activate the BWC, for accountability. According to Senate Bill 158, justification for failing to activate includes “unsafe, unrealistic, or impracticable” circumstances. Senate Bill 158 also adds that officers are not required to keep the BWC activated for an entire shift, giving the officer some down time for personal reliefs and breaks. The law allows officers to access any recording of an incident involving the officer before a statement is given. Officer discretion pertaining to activation can be complicated and must be clearly outlined with a strong policy and/or laws, this can help towards a healthier work environment for officers to feel like they have rights too. Most situations happen with less than a moment’s notice, and officers need to know that they are not bound by impossible expectations but, protected by clear and concise BWC policies.
Let there be light
Some people feel an obligation to question every decision an officer makes, causing the officer to question himself. Sometimes, the reason for a decision comes down to “You just had to be there.” Officers are human, they make mistakes. By eliminating as much of the gray as possible, through sound policy and training, confidence in the BWC is boosted, willingness to comply increases and the ability to be in and stay in compliance is achievable. Officers want to serve the community they work and live in. Citizens want to trust and respect the officers they hired to do the job.
The aim of this document is to provide a practical understanding on the wide range of information that Body Worn Video (BWV) devices are able to capture and what safeguards can be implemented to avoid losing this data.
Questions have begun to emerge regarding the potential utility of BWCs for specialized units in a police department, such as K9, traffic, tactical, gang, and undercover units. Given the near-sole focus on patrol, the role of specialized units in BWC deployment is often overlooked. Further, the advantages, disadvantages, and challenges associated with BWCs may be very different for specialized units than for patrol.
Despite relatively little extant research, efforts to expand the use of body-worn cameras (BWCs) in policing are increasing. Although recent research suggests positive impacts of BWCs on reducing police use-of-force and citizen complaints, little is known about community members’ perceptions of BWCs.
Following the intense public scrutiny of law enforcement since the summer of 2014, community members, politicians, and police executives alike have called for the adoption of body-worn camera (BWC) systems. There have been a variety of reasons offered in support of body-worn cameras, all of which coalesce around advancing three potential benefits: a signaling benefit, a behavioral change benefit, and a documentation benefit. Agencies and executives that are considering or implementing BWC programs may want to contemplate how different policies and procedures will advance or undermine thes
One of the most compelling perceived benefits of body-worn cameras (BWCs) involves the potential for reductions in citizen complaints and police use of force. A handful of early studies reported significant reductions in both outcomes following BWC adoption, but several recent studies have failed to document such effects.The current study explores this question using data from a randomized controlled trial conducted in the Spokane (WA) Police Department.