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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Do Body Cameras Improve Police Conduct?

The police technology discussion tends to focus on privacy issues rather than equality issues—although there is a growing body of scholars to look to equality to critique the new technology. Privacy has dominated much of the body camera debate; but equality issues have also driven much of the movement towards demanding body cameras. The egalitarian argument is that body cameras restrain police use of force by providing an "angel on the shoulder" of the officer, whose deployment of force may well become public.

The problem with this argument, as with much of the body camera debate, is that there is very little data to go on. The "angel on the shoulder" argument depends heavily upon the results of the first, brief study in Rialto, California. More extensive studies in Mesa and Pheonix, Arizona, found that the "angel" effect dropped off after about six months or so. The police became more forceful, and complaints rose. The studies also found that the police were more likely to arrest, rather than release, individuals when they wore body cameras. And the effect on criminal prosecutions depended heavily on access to the cameras, and in particular, whether the prosecutor reviewed the footage, which did not occur in most cases.

One way to read the studies is that supervision really matters. So long as the patrol police think their conduct will be made public or reviewed by a supervisor, they will restrain themselves. When they discover that no-one is reviewing the footage, they return to policing as normal. The footage may have important benefits for defense counsel in humanizing their clients and providing important evidence during a criminal trial. That view is currently anecdotal and needs some further study.

Body cameras are promoted as if they will transform policing. They will not. The problems of police patrol are not driven by the willingness of police officers to restrain episodically, during encounters with civilians. The problems of police patrol concern the distribution of policing, and the style of policing that civilians encounter and endure. So long as the governing monolithic mode of policing is forcible presence on the street in which the dominant role is to establish an unquestioned but temporary physical presence in the community, policing will continue to do what it does least well. Policing could instead establish shared, local, consensual norms coalescing around establishing justice and addressing injustice, including pressing for more livable communities, with better facilities, that are accessible to all. Having a body camera record a flawed policing method will not make that method better. Nor will it encourage trust within those communities that must bear the brunt of forcible policing.

Posted by Eric Miller on October 18, 2018 at 01:08 PM | Permalink


"Policing could instead establish shared, local, consensual norms coalescing around establishing justice and addressing injustice."
Could somebody translate this into English for me? What does this have to do with stopping muggers from mugging, drug dealers from dealing, and car thieves from stealing cars?

Posted by: Douglas Levene | Oct 20, 2018 3:24:55 AM

Ten they think they're being recorded.he very small and unrepresentative sample of police in my personal acquaintance claim that body cams have improved arrestees' conduct: They don't fight as much when they're being arrested, and they don't make false claims of police misconduct, when they think everything is being recorded.

Posted by: arthur | Oct 18, 2018 4:41:26 PM

At this point , it is rather more preferable , to look for narrower prospective . The judiciary , works too hard , investing huge resources , for avoiding false and unjustified arrests and alike , and surly , avoid the conviction of innocent persons . In this regard , new technology and body cams , have surly greater potential to support justice and fairer trials , over , implicating innocent persons . That is what matters right now .

Beyond it , it is correct , that footage should be scanned and reviewed . May take hell of time and personnels . Yet , one may assume , that in time , newer and finer logarithms shall appear in markets , making it easier .

This is the hardcore right now . Transforming the philosophy of the police activity , is good , but right now , we need to become bit more concerned in this regard , for exercising excessive force , and unjustified arrests and convictions .


Posted by: El roam | Oct 18, 2018 3:04:00 PM

Interesting. I agree and offer this reflection, although to be honest I got a little bogged down midway through ¶4 (and I think it addresses my response).

Accepting that there is little data to go on, the existing data you reference seems supported by common sense. Workplace misconduct becomes norm under subpar supervision. The interplay between prosecutor and defense counsel stands out to me: where the prosecutor may not have reviewed footage, and the defense counsel may select portions of the footage to highlight. With recent viral body camera events in mind, I have a hard time not thinking of the media also highlighting portions of footage (and while it might be used both ways, I think the mainstream broadcast tends to highlight in favor of the person receiving police action), thereby acting as a type of public prosecutor of police misconduct.

Seeing the selective capturing of only what the body or dash cam can catch, the selective footage presented, and further selective footage reviewed, I think the most engaged and responsive (albeit not most *directly* responsive such as ability to suspend or fire) is the public. Where the public norm changes interactions with police in response to public awareness and viewing of police cams, this may act as a "soft" supervisor (a better phrase doesn't immediately come to mind).

Without digging up the research, I think there is data related to how community policing is in some way a dialogue between officers and the community they police: tense crowds lead to tense police and vice versa. Therefore a public informed by their choice of footage would result in a soft supervision that impacts how the officers may interact, leading to improved (or worsened) conduct.

Posted by: Recent grad | Oct 18, 2018 1:35:09 PM

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