Is There a Civilizing Effect on Citizens? Testing the Pre-Conditions for Body Worn Camera-Induced Behavior Change
Police Quarterly (2021)
The cause(s) of reduced use of force and complaints following police body-worn camera (BWC) deployment remain unclear, though some argue that BWCs generate a civilizing effect on citizen behavior. This potential effect rests on four pre-conditions:
(1) BWC presence and citizen awareness;
(2) BWC activation;
(3) Escalated citizen behavior or the potential for escalation;
(4) Citizen mental capacity for BWC awareness.
Prior research has not established the civilizing effect’s existence, or how often these pre-conditions are met; this study aims to fill that gap. Data was collected during systematic social observation (SSO) of 166 encounters between citizens and officers in the Tempe, Arizona Police Department. The results tell a simple story. Two preconditions (activation, citizen mental capacity) are consistently met; awareness and escalated behavior are not. Overall, 1.2% of encounters saw all pre-conditions met. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications for research on BWCs.
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