Response to “An Evidence-Assessment of the Recommendations of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing: Body Cameras”

Dr. Michael White, Co-Director and Subject Matter Expert on the BWC TTA Team, Professor at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University 

The recent review of the evidence supporting Pillar 3 Recommendations in the final report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing raises several important issues related to police body-worn cameras (BWCs). The first issue involves the small but rapidly growing body of research on police. When the President’s Task Force final report was released in May 2015, there were only a handful of studies available that empirically assessed the impact of police BWCs. In the last 18 months, law enforcement leaders and researchers have collaborated to quickly advance the knowledge base on BWCs. In that time a number of important studies have been published and dozens more are underway. This research has identified a number of important themes.

For example, the research has consistently shown that officers are generally supportive of BWCs, and their support increases after they begin wearing the cameras (Gaub et al., 2016; Jennings et al., 2014). Research also suggests that citizen support for BWCs is high—among both the general population (Sousa et al., 2015) and citizens who interact with police and have those interactions recorded (White et al., 2016a; 2016b). Several studies have also documented the evidentary value of BWCs for criminal cases (Owens et al., 2014; Morrow et al., 2016). Much of the research has also focused on the impact of BWCs on citizen complaints against officers and the use of force. Though there are mixed findings regarding the impact of BWCs on force and complaints, the weight of the available evidence documenting positive effects is persuasive (Ariel et al., 2015; Hedberg et al., 2016; Jennings et al. 2015; Mesa Police Department, 2013). In sum, our understanding of the potential impact of BWCs has advanced considerably in a short period of time.

The second important issue raised in the recent “Evidence-Assessment” report involves the cost and complexity of implementing a BWC program, as well as the attendant wide range of factors that come into play. A BWC program has implications for nearly every unit in a police department, civilian and sworn. State law, the local political environment, the internal police culture, and the nature of the police-community relationship all affect the implementation and healthy functioning of a BWC program. As a consequence, the impact of a BWC program may vary considerably across agencies. Did the agency engage in a deliberate, collaborative planning process? Does the agency have a clear and comprehensive administrative policy? Does the agency monitor officer compliance with administrative policy? Has the city and agency leadership accounted for the ongoing costs associated with management of the BWC program? Do citizens support the deployment of BWCs in their jurisdiction? Will changes in the local political climate affect support for the BWC program? Answers to all of these questions likely affect the impact and consequences of a BWC program, and it is clear there are many important questions left to explore.

Nevertheless, our knowledge regarding BWCs has progressed at a very impressive rate. We know much more now than we did 18 months ago, when the final report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing was released. And given the considerable resources and expertise marshaled by the U.S. Department of Justice, local law enforcement agencies, and policing researchers from the U.S. and abroad, I have no doubt our understanding of BWCs and their impact will continue to grow at an exponential rate.

References

Ariel, B., Farrar, W. A., & Sutherland, A. (2015). The effect of police body-worn cameras on useof force and citizens’ complaints against the police: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 31 (3), 1–27.

Gaub, J.E., Choate, D.E., Todak, N., Katz, C.M., & White, M.D. (2016). Officer perceptions of police body-worn cameras before and after deployment: A study of three departments. Police Quarterly, 19 (3), 275–302.

Hedberg, E.C., Katz, C.M., & Choate, D.E. (2016). Body-worn cameras and citizen interactions with police officers: Estimating plausible effects given varying compliance levels. Justice Quarterly, DOI: 10.1080/07418825.2016.1198825.

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, 549–556.

Jennings, W.G., Lynch, M.D., & Fridell, L.A. (2015). Evaluating the impact of police officer body-worn cameras (BWCs) on response-to-resistance and serious external complaints: Evidence from the Orlando Police Department (OPD) experience utilizing a randomized controlled experiment. Journal of Criminal Justice, 43 (6), 480–486.

Mesa Police Department. (2013), On-officer body camera system: Program evaluation and recommendations. Mesa, AZ: Mesa Police Department.

Morrow, W.J., Katz, C.M., & Choate, D.E. (2016). Assessing the impact of police body-worn cameras on arresting, prosecuting, and convicting suspects of intimate partner violence. Police Quarterly 19 (3), 303–325.

Owens, C., Mann, D., & McKenna, R. (2014). The Essex Body Worn Video Trial. The impact of body worn video on criminal justice outcomes of domestic abuse incidents. Essex, UK: College of Policing.

Sousa, W.H., Miethe, T.D., & Sakiyama, M. (2015). Research in brief: Body worn cameras on police: Results from a national survey of public attitudes. Las Vegas, NV: University of Nevada – Las Vegas, Center for Crime and Justice Policy.

White, M.D., Todak, N., & Gaub, J.E. (2016a). Assessing citizen perceptions of body-worn cameras after encounters with police. Forthcoming at Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies and Management.

White, M.D., Gaub, J.E., & Todak, N. (2016b). “Assessing the impact and consequences of police officer body-worn cameras.” Paper presented at the 2016 American Society of Criminology meeting in New Orleans, LA, November 16-19, 2016.

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