Body Cam Study Shows No Effect On Police Use Of Force Or Citizen Complaints

Having police officers wear little cameras seems to have no discernible impact on citizen complaints or officers’ use of force, at least in the nation’s capital.

That’s the conclusion of a study performed as Washington, D.C., rolled out its huge camera program. The city has one of the largest forces in the country, with some 2,600 officers now wearing cameras on their collars or shirts.

“We found essentially that we could not detect any statistically significant effect of the body-worn cameras,” says Anita Ravishankar, a researcher with the Metropolitan Police Department and a group in the city government called the Lab @ DC.

“I think we’re surprised by the result. I think a lot of people were suggesting that the body-worn cameras would change behavior,” says Chief of Police Peter Newsham. “There was no indication that the cameras changed behavior at all.”

Perhaps, he says, that is because his officers “were doing the right thing in the first place.”

In the wake of high-profile shootings, many police departments have been rapidly adopting body-worn cameras, despite a dearth of solid research on how the technology can change policing.

“We need science, rather than our speculations about it, to try to answer and understand what impacts the cameras are having,” says David Yokum, director of the Lab @ DC.

His group worked with local police officials to make sure that cameras were handed out in a way that let the researchers carefully compare officers who were randomly assigned to get cameras with those who were not. The study ran from June 2015 to last December.

“This is a very methodologically rigorous study. It is very well done. And that’s not a small issue, because there have been many studies of body-worn cameras that are not rigorous,” says Michael White, a researcher at Arizona State University who has studied body-worn camera programs in Tempe, Ariz., and Spokane, Wash.

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 3206 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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  • Jennifer Richards

    There is one problem with police cams, they do stop working or have technical errors that often coincide with when they are useful. As a protestor I was beaten up by police, when I tried to hold them accountable the video was missing, cameras turned off or malfunctioning, SEVERAL CAMERAS. Don’t let the police use this as an excuse to stop using cameras they are still a good defense against abuse even if they are not perfect, make cameras impossible to tamper with or turn off.