Many people know Wichita, Kansas, as the “air capital of the world,” or as the birthplace of both White Castle and Pizza Hut. Wyatt Earp also worked as a Wichita police officer long before the famed 1881 shootout at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. More recently, we recognize Wichita as an early adopter and innovator of police body-worn cameras (BWCs).
Body-worn cameras can’t replace an officer’s perceptions, but they can be extraordinarily valuable when they confirm the presence of weapons, capture resistance, and verify de-escalation attempts. What’s more, it is expected that the presence of cameras encourages people on both sides of the lens to be the best version of themselves as they interact.
Body-worn cameras and transparency: Experimental evidence of inconsistency in police executive decision-making
Body-worn cameras (BWC) have diffused rapidly throughout policing as a means of promoting transparency and accountability. Yet, whether to release BWC footage to the public remains largely up to the discretion of police executives, and we know little about how they interpret and respond to BWC footage – particularly footage involving critical incidents.
In the past five years, body-worn cameras (BWCs) have disseminated widely and rapidly to police departments across the United States (White & Malm, 2020). In 2013, only one-third of agencies had some form of BWC program, most of which were small-scale pilot programs of the relatively new technology (Reaves, 2015). By 2016, about half of agencies had BWCs, including nearly 80% of large agencies (more than 500 sworn personnel) (Hyland, 2018). The push for BWCs came at a time when there was a severe dearth of research from which to draw guidance or best practices.
In 2017, the Fairfax County (Virginia) Police Department, known as FCPD, decided to launch a pilot implementation of body-worn cameras (BWCs) to learn what the technology involved, the response of its officers to it, what community members and local organization leaders would think, and the changes in policing practices and outcomes that would occur. Some police agencies in the Metropolitan Washington, DC area had already adopted BWCs and there was a push nation-wide to implement them quickly in the face of numerous high-proﬁle and controversial interactions between police and citizens.
This is an example of a BWC Discovery Protective Order from the San Diego County District Attorney's office. This order is used for the release of BWC footage prior to adjudication. For more information, please contact the BWC team at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Drug and alcohol offenses represent a signiﬁcant portion of police work. Ofﬁcers commonly rely on subjective indicators of intoxication, and prosecutors depend on ofﬁcer evidence collection, written reports, and testimony at trial. Police body-worn cameras (BWCs) have diffused widely in policing partly due to their perceived evidentiary value, but the extent to which BWCs affect the adjudication of such offences remains unanswered. The current study explores this question with 7,000 misdemeanour cases from Tempe (Arizona), ﬁled from 2014 to 2017.
Objectives The current research adds to the literature addressing police body-worn cameras (BWCs) by experimentally evaluating their effect on an interaction that has, to date, received relatively little systematic, empirical attention: police–eyewitness interactions. Although research suggests that BWCs generally have positive effects, legal scholars and media professionals have long argued that deploying cameras in this context may backfire, especially by chilling public willingness to speak with police.
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.
The New Orleans, Louisiana, Police Department provided examples of its Stops, Searches, Arrests, Use of Force, and Procedural Justice Audit Form and Use of Force Reporting and Force Statements Audit Form to assist agencies interested in implementing similar audit and reporting practices.
To view the New Orleans Stops, Searches, Arrests, Use of Force, and Procedural Justice Audit Form, click here.