Over the next 3 years, the federal government is looking to put 50,000 more body-worn cameras on officers across the country, and use of the technology is increasingly being embraced as a law enforcement best practice.Of the $23 million in grants, $19 million is earmarked for 73 law enforcement agencies to purchase cameras, with the balance dedicated to training and examining the impact of the cameras’ use. While there's still a need for definitive research on whether body cameras are helping to achieve their goals of reducing crime and improving relationships between communities and police, some promising trends have emerged in departments around the world that have added the cameras to their technological toolkits.
Here are three ways that body cameras have changed policing in participating departments:
1. Fewer citizen complaints against the police and fewer assaults on officers.
Researchers have called this first impact – coupled with number 2 – the potential “civilizing effect” of body cameras, suggesting that the cameras lead to behavioral improvements by both citizens and the police. Police wearing body cameras are less likely to have citizen complaints filed against them and are less likely to be attacked. The evidence collected from the cameras has also sped the resolution time for complaints that are filed. In addition, studies show that citizens are less likely to make false accusations against officers wearing cameras.
2. Fewer use-of-force incidents.
As mentioned, the behavioral effect of cameras also applies to police. The Rialto, Calif., police department saw a 60% decrease in incidents where officers used force over a 12- month period, along with a 88% drop in complaints. Review of video collected from cameras at other departments shows that when officers wearing cameras do use force, they appear to be more restrained. William A. Farrar, chief of the Rialto police department, summarized it this way: “When you put a camera on a police officer, they tend to behave a little better, follow the rules a little better. And if a citizen knows the officer is wearing a camera, chances are the citizen will behave a little better.”
3. Opportunities for better training.
Even researchers largely ambivalent about the use of body cameras agree about their unmatched value as a training tool for both existing officers and in the academy. Reviewing video of interactions can help identify best practices in handling volatile situations and highlight problems in officer behavior.