The Challenges and Opportunities in BWC Research

Lights, Camera, Action! Body-worn Cameras: Challenges and Opportunities in Police Research


Oxford University Press, 2017


Grainne Perkins

In many countries, the use of police body-worn cameras (BWCs) offer new access points and oversight mechanisms to monitor police–public interactions. BWCs offer researchers front-row seats in Hotel Criminology from the police officer’s perspective. This discussion aims to caution researchers about getting too comfortable in their hotel armchairs as a result of the introduction of BWCs. Questions arise as to whether these cameras offer police organizations a legitimate reason to refuse research access where, alternatively, BWC footage could be viewed. For many police commanders, it would be less demanding to supply BWC footage to researchers in lieu of sanctioning direct participant access. However, it is the offcamera events and conversations that contextualize the research and are often the greatest value in participant observations. The purpose of this discussion is not to convince individuals that BWCs will replace the ethnographer, but to consider the possible unintended consequences of the introduction of BWCs. Moreover, its aim is to encourage discussions about the possible opportunities and limitations which may arise regarding BWCs from a research perspective.

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