A randomized controlled trial of the impact of body-worn camera activation on the outcomes of individual incidents
Journal of Experimental Criminology (2020)
Body-worn cameras (BWCs) are being deployed at an accelerated rate in police agencies across the US. The expansion of this technology has been promoted to increase police effectiveness through enhanced ability to capture evidence and to reduce police use of force and citizen complaints against the police as a result of increased self-awareness or a civilizing effect (Ariel et al. 2015; White 2014). However, some researchers have raised concerns that additional external review of officer behaviors can lead to depolicing or officer passivity (Rushin and Edwards 2017). Though a growing body of research has assessed the impact of BWCs on outcomes including officer passivity, arrests, use of force, and citizen complaints, the findings are far from conclusive (Lum et al. 2019). Further, the studies examining the impact of BWCs on officer behavioral outcomes have often focused on either officer-level or agency-level change, as opposed to examining the impact of BWCs on the outcomes of individual incidents.
The purpose of this study is to examine the impact of BWCs on officer-initiated activity, arrests, officer use of force, and citizen complaints against officers using data collected as part of a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of BWCs in the Phoenix Police
Department. We advance prior research by examining both the impact of being assigned to wear a BWC and the impact of BWC assignment for incidents where the BWC was activated. This analysis focuses on the outcomes of individual incidents.
Given prior research finding a wide range of officer compliance with BWC activation policies (Lawrence et al. 2019), accounting for whether BWCs are activated by officers who are assigned to wear them is important and adds to the methodologies previously used by Hedberg et al. (2017).
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