Officer Perceptions of Body-Worn Cameras: Directory of Outcomes

Officer Perceptions of Body-Worn Cameras: Directory of Outcomes

Source

BWC TTA (2020)

Authors

Dr. Janne E. Gaub, Dr. Jessica Huff, Dr. Michael D. White, and Dr. Aili Malm

The research base on the impact of police body-worn cameras (BWCs) has grown rapidly, and, over time, the results have become increasingly mixed. This development poses two problems: 

  1. It is difficult to keep track of the quickly growing evidence base. 
  2. It is difficult to make sense of the sometimes-competing findings across studies. 

Moreover, studies can vary widely in terms of their methodological rigor. We have developed the Body-Worn Camera Outcome Directories to address these two problems. The directories provide a comprehensive, up-to-date overview of the existing research by outcome (e.g., use of force, citizen complaints, officer activity, officer perceptions). More detailed instructions for interpreting the directories are included in each document. 

The directory of studies examining officer perceptions of BWCs is available below. If you have any questions, please contact Dr. Michael White (mdwhite1@asu.edu), Dr. Janne Gaub (jgaub@uncc.edu), or the BWC Training and Technical Assistance team (bwctta@cna.org).

Link here:

Officer Perception Directory

Summary of the Officer Perception Directory (6/4/2020)

General

There are 37 entries in the directory. A wide range of methods were employed in those entries, with in-person surveys (15) and online surveys (10) being the most common. Seventeen entries examined patrol officer perceptions only, and 16 examined a mix of officer ranks/units. Nine were conducted only pre-deployment, and 11 were conducted only post-deployment, with 15 entries examining officer perceptions both pre- and post-deployment. The entries cover officer perceptions on a wide range of topics. It is important to note that this summary focuses on officer perceptions of key outcomes.  This line of research is distinct from other research that measures actual outcomes. In this particular directory, the focus is on what officers believe will be the effect of body worn camera use on use of force or complaints, as well on other perceived outcomes.   The actual impact of body worn cameras on the volume of use of force and complaints are addressed in separate research directories that are part of this series.

The text and table below provide a brief summary of the findings from the entries.

  1. Overall, officers have positive attitudes about BWCs. Entries also show positive perceptions about evidentiary value and court outcomes, the impact on citizen complaints, the impact of BWCs on police/community relations, and the ease of use/comfort of BWCs.
  2. The entries show negative officer perceptions about the impact of BWCs on citizen cooperation, citizen resistance, officer ability to use discretion, officer use of force, and officer safety.
  3. The entries show mixed or neutral officer perceptions about the impact of BWCs on the number of citizen contacts and the number of arrests.

More detail on each topic is provided in Table 1 below (key themes are highlighted).

Table 1

Topic

# of Entries

Positive Perceptions

Negative Perceptions

Mixed/Neutral Perceptions

Overall Perceptions

28

54%

(15)

25%

(7)

21%

(6)

Evidentiary Value

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evidence Quality

19

84%

(16)

5%

(1)

11%

(2)

Court Outcomes

12

58%

(7)

17%

(2)

25%

(3)

Officer & Citizen Behaviors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Citizen Complaints

27

63%

(17)

22%

(6)

15%

(4)

Citizen Cooperation/ Respect

24

29%

(7)

50%

(12)

21%

(5)

Citizen Aggression/ Resistance

14

14%

(2)

57%

(8)

29%

(4)

Citizen Contacts

19

47%

(9)

32%

(6)

21%

(4)

Discretion

19

11%

(2)

63%

(12)

26%

(5)

Use of Force

22

27%

(6)

59%

(13)

14%

(3)

Arrests

4

50%

(2)

50%

(2)

0%

(0)

Other

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Police/Community Relations

13

62%

(8)

23%

(3)

15%

(2)

Officer Safety

21

14%

(3)

57%

(12)

29%

(6)

Easy to Use/Comfortable

13

62%

(8)

15%

(2)

23%

(3)

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Overall Perceptions

Twenty-eight of the 37 entries provided an overall measure of officer perceptions regarding BWCs. Of the 28, 15 reported positive perceptions (54 percent), 7 reported negative perceptions (25 percent), and 6 reported neutral/mixed perceptions (21percent). For example, in a study of police officers in New York City, Hickman (2017) found that 78 percent of BWC officers and 79 percent of officers who did not wear a BWC agreed that cameras should be adopted for all frontline officers. In her study of officers in two California police agencies, Pickering (2020) found that officers generally held positive perceptions of BWCs.

Evidentiary Value

Evidence Quality

Nineteen of the 37 entries reported an overall measure for evidence quality provided by BWCs. Of the 19 that reported a measure, 16 reported positive perceptions (84 percent). Just 2 reported neutral or mixed perceptions (11 percent). Only one study reported negative perceptions toward the evidentiary quality of BWCs (5 percent). For example, in their study of a large university police department, Pelfrey and Keener (2018) found that officers and administrators largely agreed that BWCs improve the quality of evidence they can collect (mean of 3.28 of a 4-point scale using surveys collected after BWCs were deployed). Clare et al. (2019) similarly found that roughly 80 percent of officers in the Western Australia Police agreed that BWCs improve their ability to gather evidence.

Court Outcomes

Of the 37 entries, just 12 reported officer perceptions regarding court outcomes. Seven of the 12 reported positive perceptions of BWCs’ impact on court outcomes (58 percent). Three of the entries reported neutral/mixed perceptions toward court outcomes (25 percent). Only 2 entries reported negative officer perceptions on BWCs’ impact on court outcomes (17 percent). For example, the Toronto Police Service (2016) report found that 60 percent of BWC pilot and comparison officers believed that BWC footage would be useful in court. In their study of command staff from multiple agencies in the Southern US, Smykla et al. (2015) also identified positive perceptions about the impact of BWCs on court outcomes (mean of 2.63 on a 5-point scale).

Officer and Citizen Behavior

Citizen Complaints

Twenty-seven of the 37 entries reported a measure of officer perceptions of BWC impact on citizen complaints. Of the 27, 17 reported positive perceptions (63 percent), 6 reported negative perceptions (22 percent), and 4 reported neutral/mixed perceptions (15 percent). For instance, in their study conducted in the London Metropolitan Police Service, Grossmith et al. (2015) found that officers who wore BWCs felt significantly more protected against citizen complaints than control officers did. Relative to control officers, BWC officers were more likely to agree that complaints made against them would be sorted out quickly and that they feel protected from malicious complaints. Gaub et al. (2020) found that officers in specialty units in Tempe, Arizona, and Spokane, Washington, felt that BWCs protected officers against false complaints. Similarly, in their multisite study of officers in England and Northern Ireland, Tankebe and Ariel (2016) found that 86 percent of officers agreed that BWCs protect officers against false allegations of misconduct.

Citizen Cooperation/Respect

Twenty-four of the 37 entries reported officer perceptions of citizen cooperation/respect. Of the 24, 12 studies reported negative perceptions (50 percent), 7 reported positive perceptions (29 percent), and 5 reported neutral/mixed perceptions (21 percent). For example, Katz et al. (2015) found that only 33 percent of officers in Phoenix, Arizona, agreed that BWCs would result in citizens being more respectful (survey administered pre-deployment). Kyle and White (2017) found that officers in their multisite study disagreed that BWCs would increase citizen compliance with officer directives (mean of 2.47 agreement on a 5-point scale).

Citizen Aggression/Resistance

Of the 37 entries, 14 reported officer perceptions of BWC impact on citizens’ aggression/ resistance. Of the 14, 8 reported negative perceptions (57 percent), 4 reported neutral perceptions (29 percent), and 2 reported positive perceptions (14 percent). In their multisite study of change in officer perceptions of BWCs in Phoenix, Tempe, and Spokane, Gaub et al. (2016) found that officers in each agency were skeptical that BWCs reduce citizen aggression. Using surveys collected after BWCs were deployed, they found that only 23 percent of Phoenix officers, 43 percent of Tempe officers, and 28 percent of Spokane officers agreed that BWCs reduce citizen aggression. In their study of changes in officer perceptions from pre- to post-BWC deployment in Phoenix, Huff et al. (2020) found that officers who volunteered to wear a BWC were less likely to agree that BWCs reduce citizen aggression/resistance relative to control officers (a 10.8 percent reduction for BWC volunteers compared to a 0.6 percent reduction for control officers; p<0.05).

Citizen Contacts

Nineteen of the 37 entries reported officer perceptions of the impact of BWCs on the number of citizen encounters. Of the 19, 9 reported positive perceptions (47 percent), 6 reported negative perceptions (32 percent), and 4 reported neutral perceptions (21 percent). In their study of police executives in South Carolina, McLean et al. (2015) found that only 29.5 percent agreed that BWCs would make officers less willing to interact with the public. However, during interviews and ride-a-longs conducted by Falik et al. (2020) with police officers from multiple agencies in a Southern US state, some officers reported that wearing a BWC made them hesitant to conduct proactive contacts.

Discretion

Nineteen of the 37 entries reported officer perceptions of the impact of BWCs on their discretion. Twelve of the 19 reported negative perceptions (63 percent), 5 reported neutral perceptions (26 percent), and 2 reported positive perceptions (11 percent). In their study of a small suburban police department in the US, Koen et al. (2018) found that roughly one-quarter of the officers felt that BWCs made them more legalistic. Additionally, over half of the officers agreed that they have to follow the letter of the law when wearing a BWC. In a study conducted in the New York City Police Department, Hickman (2017) found that 43 percent of officers agreed that BWCs affected their use of discretion.

Use of Force

Of the 37 entries, 22 reported officer perceptions regarding the impact of BWCs on the officers’ use of force. Thirteen of the 22 reported negative perceptions (59 percent), 6 reported positive perceptions (27 percent), and 3 reported neutral perceptions (14 percent). For example, Lawshe et al. (2019) found that only 9 percent of officers in their study agreed that BWCs reduce physical harm against citizens. In their study of officers in Buffalo and Rochester (New York), Gramagila and Phillips (2018) found that roughly 75 percent of officers in each agency agreed that BWCs would influence officer decisions to use force.

Arrests

Only four of the 37 entries reported officer perceptions of the impact of BWCs on arrests. Two reported positive perceptions (50 percent), and the other 2 reported negative perceptions (50 percent). For example, Ready and Young (2015) found that BWC officers in the Mesa, Arizona, Police Department were significantly more likely to rate cameras as helpful in arrest incidents (OR=2.023; p<0.01). However, Wooditch et al. (2020) found that 83 percent of the officers they surveyed in the Mission division of the Los Angeles Police Department agreed that officers would make fewer arrests when assigned a BWC.

Other

Police/Community Relations

Thirteen of the 37 entries reported officer perceptions of BWCs’ impact on police/community relations. Of the 13, 8 reported positive perceptions (62 percent), 3 reported negative perceptions (23 percent), and 2 reported neutral/mixed perceptions (15 percent). In their study of officers in the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, Goetschel and Peha (2017) found that 73 percent of BWC officers and 54 percent of control officers agreed that BWCs would not hurt police community relations. In their study of BWCs in Las Vegas, Braga et al. (2015) similarly found that most officers agreed that BWCs would improve the relationship between the police and the community.

Officer Safety

Twenty-one of the 37 entries reported officer perceptions of the impact of BWCs on officer safety. Of the 21 entries, 12 reported negative perceptions (57 percent), 6 reported neutral/mixed perceptions (29 percent), and 3 studies reported positive perceptions (14 percent). In a study of police officers in Buffalo and Rochester (New York), Phillips et al. (2020) found that officers felt BWCs would decrease officer safety (mean of 2.43 agreement on a 4-point scale). Similarly, Stokes et al. (2013) found that few officers in Mesa agreed that BWCs would increase officer safety.

Easy to Use/Comfortable

Of the 37 studies, 13 reported officer perceptions regarding the comfort-level and ease of use of BWCs. Eight of the 13 reported positive perceptions (62 percent), 3 reported neutral/mixed perceptions (23 percent), and 2 reported negative perceptions (15 percent). For example, in their study of officers in the Orlando Police Department, Jennings et al. (2014) found that 77 percent of officers agreed that they would feel comfortable wearing a BWC. The Edmonton Police Service (2015) report also indicated that officers became increasingly comfortable wearing and using BWCs over the study period.