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Posts Tagged ‘officer shooting’

Study Finds No Significant Impact of Body Cameras on Police Conduct or Citizen Complaints

Posted on: November 13th, 2017

By: Wesley C. Jackson

In response to recent high-profile officer-involved shootings, many commentators are touting police body cameras as a way to keep police accountable. The hypothesis is that when police and citizens know they are being watched, they are more likely to behave civilly during confrontations. Specifically, body cameras are thought to deter officers from engaging in excessive force or other unprofessional conduct and to encourage citizens to be less resistant or combative when interacting with police.

But how does this theory hold up under examination? Not very well, according to a working paper discussing the findings of a recent controlled study of policing behaviors and outcomes in the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia. The study found that the use of police body cameras had no statistically significant impact on officers’ use of force, citizen complaints, policing activity, or judicial outcomes.

The study examined the effect of police body cameras on multiple variables as the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department began issuing cameras to its officers. Specifically, the study observed officers who were randomly assigned body cameras and compared those officers’ rates of use of force and citizen complaints to a control group of officers who did not receive cameras. The evaluation period ran for 18 months from June 2015 to December, 2016.

The paper’s authors concluded that as to use of force, citizen complaints, police activity, and judicial outcomes, the analyses “consistently point to a null result: the average treatment effect on all of the measured outcomes was very small, and no estimate rose to statistical significance at conventional levels.” In other words, the use of police cameras produced no measurable difference in police conduct, at least in this study.

What explains this unexpected outcome? One explanation is simply that body cameras do not change police or citizen behavior. Indeed, in the heat of the moment, the implications of a body camera will likely be the last thing on an officer’s or citizen’s mind. The researchers also posit that the results could be particular to the D.C. police: as the police force for the nation’s capital, the D.C. police may already be more disciplined than the average police force due to the increased scrutiny it receives and the officers’ frequent experience handling citizen interactions under pressure at inaugurations, protests, and other such events. Additionally, the results could be due to a “spillover” effect: officers who were not assigned body cameras may nevertheless have adjusted their conduct, knowing that other officers in the area may be wearing body cameras.

The researchers concluded that “Law enforcement agencies . . . that are considering adopting [body cameras] should not expect dramatic reductions in use of force or complaints, or other large-scale shifts in police behavior, solely from the deployment of this technology.” Even so, agencies should note that the study did not examine one important consideration in adopting body cameras: the effect additional video evidence will have on civil rights lawsuits alleging improper police conduct. Even if the use of body cameras will not produce department-wide improvements in police conduct, they could still be useful in defending officers and municipalities in civil rights lawsuits.

Police body cameras can also provide non-measurable benefits, such as streamlining internal investigations of citizen complaints and providing the appearance of police accountability to the community. That is to say, while this recent study does not establish that police body cameras have a measurable effect on policing, body cameras may nevertheless be a useful tool to departments for other reasons.

If you have questions about this topic or would like more information, please contact Wes Jackson at [email protected].