BWCs in the Decision to File

The Role of Body-Worn Camera Footage in the Decision to File


Temple University (2018)


Elizabeth R. Groff, Jeffrey T. Ward, Julie Wartell

Spurred by support from a presidential commission (The President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing ("Task Force"), 2015) and over 53 million dollars in funding from the U.S. Justice Department in 2015 and 2016 (Department of Justice, 2015, 2016), the use of Body Worn Cameras (BWCs) by law enforcement agencies has grown rapidly in the U.S. as well as across the world (Cubitt, Lesic, Myers, & Corry, 2016). Evaluations of officer perceptions of BWCs and the impact of BWCs on officer behavior is also increasing rapidly.

Since law enforcement agencies are the gateway to the criminal justice system, changes in how they do their jobs have significant down-stream implications for prosecution, courts, prison and probation (Goldkamp, 2011). After police make an arrest, prosecutors must decide whether to file charges. Thus, prosecutors are the next component of the criminal justice system to feel the effects from the adoption of BWCs by police (Katz et al., 2014). However, there has been very little empirical research on how BWC video affects prosecutorial decisionmaking or case outcomes (Lum, Koper, Merola, Sherer, & Reioux, 2015; Merola, Lum, Koper, & Scherer, 2016).

This report details an in-depth examination of the challenges prosecutorial agencies face during the filing decision when law enforcement adopts BWCs. The myriad ways that the presence of BWC evidence might make the filing decision more or less straightforward are of 2 particular interest, as are the particular types of crimes1 for which BWC footage is more relevant. The filing decision is the focus of the research because it is the entry point to the court component of the criminal justice system. The study was conducted in the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office. 

To read the full report, click here.

To read the Prosecutor's Guide, click here.