Over the past five years, the number of research studies on BWCs has exploded, from just five in 2014 to nearly 120 as of December 2019. The studies address numerous outcomes including use of force and citizen complaints, officer and citizen perceptions, court outcomes, and officer activity measures (e.g., arrests and self-initiated calls). Some utilize “gold standard” randomized controlled trials (RCTs), whereas others use less rigorous methods.
Resources about Research on BWCs and Related Issues
By 2016, approximately one-half of American police agencies had adopted body-worn cameras (BWCs). Though a growing body of research has examined the impact of BWCs on outcomes such as use of force, complaints, and perceptions of police, few have considered how and why some agencies adopted BWCs, while others have not. With guidance from the diffusion of innovations paradigm, the current study explores variation in BWC adoption by police agencies.
Open to Interpretation: Confronting the Challenges of Understanding the Current State of Body-Worn Camera Research
In only five years, both the implementation of police body-worn cameras (BWCs) and
the evidence base evaluating the technology has diffused at a breakneck pace. As the
number of studies has increased, so too has the uncertainty surrounding BWCs and
their impact on various outcomes. In this commentary, we bring together the differing
viewpoints on the five existing summaries of the BWC literature, highlight the key
sources of contention, and make recommendations for BWC scholars and consumers
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:
Though the research on BWCs has grown at an exponential rate over the past five years, there has been virtually no discussion about the training used by departments. This is a crucial oversight, given that any program or policy cannot succeed without effective training. We conducted an online survey of agencies receiving federal funds for BWCs to understand the type of training offered to officers, what this training entails, and how frequently training is provided. Responses from nearly 100 agencies indicate several key trends:
Examining the Empirical Realities of Proactive Policing Through Systematic Observations and Computer-Aided Dispatch Data
The 2017 National Academies of Sciences (NAS) Committee and Report on Proactive Policing highlighted what we know about the effects of proactive policing practices on crime prevention and police–community relations. However, the evaluation evidence reviewed by the NAS, which largely comes from case studies of carefully managed proactive initiatives, does not provide a basis for estimating how extensively these practices are used or whether they are used in the most effective ways.
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.
Contentious debate is currently taking place regarding the extent to which public scrutiny of the police post-Ferguson has led to depolicing or to a decrease in proactive policework. Advocates of the “Ferguson effect” claim the decline in proactive policing increased violent crime and assaults on the police. Although police body-worn cameras (BWCs) are touted as a police reform that can generate numerous beneﬁts, they also represent a form of internal and public surveillance on the police.
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.