The sad incidents in Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland, New York City and elsewhere have led many to question the actions of law enforcement in using force. Many of those who believe that police use of force is excessive and out of control have called for body cameras as a solution. Some in law enforcement are equally enthusiastic about the use of video cameras, believing that the cameras will lead to greater public trust and protect officers from false claims of brutality. It is worth examining whether body cameras can actually deliver the positive results claimed by proponents.
Researchers recently published a study conducted to determine just how body cameras change the interactions between police and the public. The Mesa Police Department equipped some officers with body cameras while others continued to work without them. The differences between the two groups were monitored.
The study identified several potentially important differences between officers with cameras and those without. First, officers with body cameras were more likely to initiate interactions with citizens. They were also more likely to issue citations for ordinance violations and to describe the cameras as helpful. The cameras did deter other types of police interaction. They decreased "stop and frisks" by nearly 10 percent and arrests by nearly 7 percent. "Stop and frisk" policies are often cited as contributing to racial profiling behavior by police. While the practice is not racist on its face, it is often the case that minority groups are targeted disproportionately.
Body cameras will not put an end to police brutality and discrimination by law enforcement officers. They are one tool to improve an increasingly strained relationship between the public and police departments all across the country. If body cameras can help prevent violence and reduce the number of fatal run-ins between police and the public, they will be a welcome addition.
Source: Journalist's Resource, "Do body cameras change how police interact with the public?," by Chaz Kelsh, 2 October 2015