Many community stakeholders and criminal justice leaders have suggested placing body-worn cameras (BWCs) on police officers improves the civility of police-citizen encounters and enhances citizen perceptions of police transparency and legitimacy. In response, many police departments have adopted this technology to improve the quality of policing in their communities. However, the existing evaluation evidence on the intended and unintended consequences of outfitting police officers with BWCs is still developing.
In an effort to improve accountability and citizen confidence in the police department,Chief Harteau and the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), decided to evaluate the use of body worn cameras by officers. Staff researched and a conducted a product search for body worn cameras. Research included the gathering of information on policies, best practices, required infrastructure, devices, costs and operational support.
This commentary represents a compilation of the thoughts and suggestions of a number of individuals involved in body-worn camera research and technical assistance, including the following: Michael White, PhD, Arizona State University; John D. Markovic, Bureau of Justice Assistance; Brett Chapman, PhD, National Institute of Justice; Denise Rodriguez, CNA; Craig Uchida, PhD, Justice and Security Strategies; and Anthony Braga, PhD, Northeastern University, among others.
The purpose of this paper is to assess perceptions of body-worn cameras (BWCs) among citizens who had BWC-recorded police encounters, and to explore the potential for a civilizing effect on citizen behavior. From June to November 2015, the authors conducted telephone interviews with 249 citizens in Spokane (WA) who had a recent BWC-recorded police encounter. Respondents were satisfied with how they were treated during the police encounter and, overall, had positive attitudes about BWCs. However, only 28 percent of respondents were actually aware of the BWC during their own encounter.
Changes made within policing carry significant downstream implications for the rest of the criminal justice system and for surrounding communities. The relatively recent expansion in police body-worn camera (BWC) programs across U.S. police agencies represents one such change that will have a wide impact on stakeholders both inside and outside the system. We investigated perceptions of BWCs among stakeholders external to two police departments that recently deployed the new technology.
External stakeholders’ acceptance of a police innovation shapes how it spreads and impacts the larger criminal justice system. Therefore, a lack of support among external stakeholders for BWCs can short-circuit their intended benefits. Existing research studies have, however, focused on the implications of BWCs for police officers and the citizens with whom they come into direct contact. As such, there is little direction for agencies concerning the perceptions and concerns about BWCs from others who are affected by a department’s decision to implement a new program.
Upon learning that a local law enforcement agency was preparing to deploy body-worn cameras (BWCs), we as prosecutors had to wonder what this new evidence would mean to our presentation of cases in court. Would it mean more or less work? More or fewer trials? Better trial outcomes?