POLICE BODY WORN CAMERAS: IS TRANSPARENCY ACHIEVABLE?
California State University Dominguez Hills
When any type of emergency occurs; a car accident, an intruder enters your home, a shooting, or another calamity of this sort, the societal response is to immediately, nearly instinctually, call for the police to respond. Since 1968, following the creation and implementation of the 9-1-1 emergency telephone number, Americans have relied on summoning law enforcement using these three digits. For most, the call to police brings a sigh of relief, a feeling of safety, and a sense of security. But what happens when there is a fear of police, a lack of trust, or the insecurity of what may transpire when law enforcement arrives? Over the past several years, there has been a growing concern over police misconduct following numerous officer-involved shootings, use-of-force incidences, and law enforcement response to events. As various communities across the country believe the trust has eroded between the public and police, I examined a piece of technology recently introduced, which many consider to be the ultimate resolution – the police body worn camera (BWC).
Eroding Public Trust
A communal theme when dissecting the recent officer-involved shootings nationally is concerning diminished police transparency. Per Coudert, Butin and Le Métayer (2015), “The police are increasingly faced with recordings made by citizens. Some of these videos challenge the accounts provided by police officers, undermining their credibility” (p. 749). A considerable number of recent police incidents causing the public divide are as a result of either there being no footage available, or the event being recorded via personally-owned smartphone cameras. If recorded, the footage is stored locally, streamed live and/or uploaded to various social media websites, where it is shared to viewers exponentially. Thus, the public and news media outlets share a one-dimensional and often distorted perspective of what has transpired. In an attempt to increase public trust, comply with public demand, and improve police legitimacy, many police departments (roughly 9,000) have adopted the use of BWCs to provide their account of officer-involved incidences (CBS News, 2017).
According to the Harvard Law Review (2015):
The benefits may lead to improved relations between the police and the communities they serve, assuming body cameras do in fact result in more respectful officer behavior and the disciplining of those officers who abuse their power. Especially if citizens are able to request footage of their encounters with the police, or if departments willingly release footage of disputed incidents, the current climate of distrust may improve. That so many Americans feel they would be safer if all police officers wore body cameras speaks to this technology’s potential to increase accountability and transparency. (p. 1803)
Many police departments have begun testing BWCs following the funding announcement and amidst public pressure to become more transparent. This step is necessary and crucial step as a mitigating factor to improve public trust. As stated by Ariel, Sutherland, Henstock, Young and Drover (2017):
There can be no doubt that BWCs increase the transparency of frontline policing. Anything that has been recorded can be subsequently reviewed or scrutinized. Individual officers become more accountable as BWCs accentuate the need for oversight and reflection on their own actions. (p. 293)
As evidence of this important and emotionally-charged campaign to improve police/community relations, the federal government intervened and provided financial assistance to purchase and implement police BWCs. Per the United States Department of Justice (2015):
As part of President Obama’s commitment to building trust and transparency between law enforcement and the communities they serve, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch announced that the Justice Department has awarded grants totaling more than $23.2 million to 73 local and tribal agencies in 32 states to expand the use of body-worn cameras and explore their impact. (p. 1)
The necessity for law enforcement agencies to take action on implementing the use of BWCs continues to gain traction in the political arena. Taylor (2016) discussed former Presidential-candidate Hillary Clinton related in her campaign “every police department in the country” should be using cameras to improve transparency and accountability and “help good people on both sides of the lens”. Consequently, as Nunes (2015) states, South Carolina is the first state in the United States which mandates all police officers employed in the state, regardless of their agency, must acquire and use body cameras. This progressiveness and foresight provides an insight as to what we can expect from other states, as it appears BWCs will become the “new norm” on a national level. Nonetheless, BWC manufacturing companies are infusing in the forefront of the movement by offering their product free of charge for one year, to all police officers in the United States (Gurdus, 2015). This preemptive and tactical business maneuver, will allow law enforcement agencies an opportunity to utilize BWCs, yet may manipulate or monopolize the industry.
Over the last decade, a variety of manufacturers have produced police BWCs in response to the growing demand. This small recording device can become a police officer’s most important companion and technological partner. BWCs are mobile audio and video capture devices that allow officers to record what they see and hear as they patrol and respond to calls for service. Police recording devices were previously mounted inside the patrol vehicle’s windshield and provided a limited perspective, whereas BWCs are mobile and closely reflect the police officer’s point of view. BWCs can be attached to various locations on the body, including the head, on a helmet, glasses, on the uniform shirt: near the pocket, badge or on the shoulder lapel. As police departments test the BWC technologies, there are many specification issues they must consider before purchasing a camera system. Similar to other technology, system requirements frequently change, thus trade-offs will be dependent on the intended use, budget, unit cost, interoperability, and operating environment (U.S. Department of Justice, 2012).
The author outlines specifications a law enforcement agency may want to consider include: battery life, audio/video recording quality, ease of activation, storage of recording restraints and costs, night recording, camera focal width, and BWC placement (personal communication, March 14, 2017).
The bridge between policy and training lies in the camera’s capabilities. Low quality cameras and equipment will require excessive officer interaction for uploading and storage of the data. Less expensive BWCs will also offer more areas for error in use during data capture or during the data extraction. The amount of time required to extract and maintain data versus the cost of a unit should be strongly considered prior to purchase.
As police departments equip their personnel with a BWC, dependent upon the manufacturer, the activation of the recording function is either automatic or self-initiated. The activation requirement is dependent upon the department’s implemented BWC policies and procedures, legal issues, police union/association contracts or bargaining agreements, and/or other governing bodies (i.e., city councils, civilian oversight committees, federal decrees). Parameters are required detailing recording options for voluntary, compulsory and prohibited use of the camera.
As many law enforcement agencies currently utilize manual recording BWCs, the training component and ease of activation become extremely crucial and relevant to the rationale to purchase the cameras. While police officers may be confronted daily with anything but routine or predictable scenarios, the ability for an officer to consistently remember to activate the BWC recording function may be compromised. Coudert et al. (2015) argue people come to expect that officers using body-worn cameras will record video of everything that happens while they are on duty. Thus it bears the risk of undermining officers’ credibility every time questions arise about an incident that was not captured on video. As BWC technology continues to evolve, automatic recording options based upon specific criteria (i.e. patrol vehicle emergency lights activation, decibel increase, or excessive motion) may be desired.
Positive Outcomes for Implementation
Absent being selected to appear on the reality television show “COPS”, the idea or concept of having a camera crew follow a police officer as he or she completes their daily duties or calls for service is impractical and unrealistic. Following the advent of a wireless, adaptable, and mobile audio/video recording devices, the camera crew has been transformed into the BWC.
There are numerous positive effects supporting law enforcement agencies instituting the use of BWCs within their department. Coudert et al. (2015) discuss the video footage captured from BWCs should increase transparency of police behavior by recording incidents, thus providing dependable evidentiary records of interactions between the police and the public. Both the bad and good conduct of police will be revealed and it is anticipated this will act as deterrent against excessive force, avert discrimination or acts of violence against police. As a result of this deterrent effect, it is probable BWCs will re-instill the confidence and trust from the public and improve policing.
As many anticipate or rather assume, transparency will conclusively increase as police departments using BWCs will be in possession of audio/video documentation from a plethora of incidents, events, and/or encounters; ultimately to the avail of the public. The BWC footage will allow police departments to review and respond expeditiously and confidently following incidents, address policy and use of force violations, and ultimately re-establish confidence with the public.
While the use of police BWCs in the United States is a relatively new concept; initiated in 2012 (Demetrius, 2012), one California law enforcement agency – the Rialto Police Department, opted to participate in a BWC study. The “Rialto Experiment” (Ariel et al., 2017), one of the most important experiments to date on the effectiveness of BWCs, especially on the use of force and complaints found that (a) the likelihood of police using force to effect an arrest when officers did not wear BWCs was roughly twice that of when officers wore BWCs, and (b) the number of complaints lodged against officers dropped from 0.7 complaints per 1,000 contacts to 0.07 per 1,000 contacts. A review of the evidence from “The Rialto Experiment” suggests BWCs may be a technological fix that could revitalize law enforcement’s image, improve public relations and possibly prevent future incidents (Ariel et al., 2017).
Per the United States Department of Justice’s report Implementing a Body-Worn Camera Program (2014), following the conclusion of the Rialto Police Department BWC study, an unintended consequence was the reduction of civilian complaints; formal complaints filed against officers decreased by 88% between the year prior to and following implementation of BWCs.
The Rialto Police Department is not the only agency reporting a decrease in civilian complaints filed against officers. A recent Los Angeles Times newspaper article (Repard, 2017) reported “Citizen complaints and allegations against the San Diego Police Department have declined by 36% since officers were first issued body-worn cameras in 2013.” While the statistics directly reveal a marked reduction in civilian complaints filed against police officers, the difficulty is deciphering why or how the decrease can be attributed to the use of BWCs. Per Henderson (2016), “Recording can shield police against false allegations of abuse as well as deter or at least detect poor citizen decisions, perhaps including some that caused those previously unrecorded use of force incidents” (p. 970). One can speculate that the reduction may be attributed to a “civilizing effect” in which the use of a BWC changes, modifies, or alters the interaction(s) of both the officer and the subject; as they communicate and interact in a civilized manner.
While the intent of law enforcement to purchase BWCs is not solely to reduce complaints by civilians, the number of formal complaints filed against an agency or particular officer is often used by the media or anti-law enforcement groups as a catalyst to spark resistance against a department. An interesting aspect triggered by the BWC debate is the possible consequences they may have on civilian complaints against officers. Formal complaints are frequently regarded as a “mirror of police misconduct”; more complaints against a police department are indicative of an agency not in compliance with policies and procedures. Accordingly, the reduction of complaints is a highly received, especially if this denotes a restoration of public confidence and police legitimacy (Ariel et al., 2017).
Per the Harvard Law Review (2015), “The [BWC] technology has been praised as likely to reveal instances of police misconduct, reform police (and civilian) behavior, and build trust between the police and the community, all of which provide strong justifications for adoption” (p. 1803). As police misconduct continues to frequent news headlines, there is optimism from both members of the public and law enforcement that BWCs may assist (Demetrius, 2014). The author’s research into police departments showed internal focus is on improving public relations, conducting training, and enacting disciplinary action for misbehavior, while externally, the public anticipates greater transparency in policing will diminish misconduct (personal communication, March 14, 2017). Henderson. (2016) states, “It seems self-evident that video would deter (and where that fails, detect) abuse, an inference supported by police recording in Rialto, California. In the first year of body camera recording, use of force by officers fell by almost 60%” (p. 970). More recently, the findings (Kazem, 2016) from the Rand Corporation, a non-profit research organization based in southern California, were published following a study they conducted on police officers using BWCs. A total of ten law enforcement agencies from within the United States and United Kingdom were equipped with BWCs and used in the study. The study indicated a 37% decrease in use of force incidents when compared to similar shifts where officers were not using BWCs.
The complexity law enforcement officers face on a daily basis following the advent of personally-owned, handheld recording devices (i.e., smartphones) owned by approximately 77% of Americans (Smith, 2017), exemplifies the necessity for police to also capture these recordings via BWCs. Coudert et al. (2015) state, “A recent report from the US Department of Justice mentions the need to help police departments ensure events are also captured from an officer’s perspective in a world in which anyone with a cell phone camera can record video footage of a police encounter” (p. 750). Nunes (2015) argues there are citizens recording law enforcement without violating the officers’ constitutional right to privacy, thus police officers’ rights are not violated when agencies require them to record interactions using BWCs as it is “in the interest of public safety and accountability”. Brucato (2015) related video functions as an opportunity for objective proof of what happened. Thus, the significance for law enforcement to record raw and unedited footage is evident as social media and various news sources replay civilian-captured cell phone video of police officers daily.
Following implementation, BWC footage has been requested by the courts as suspects proceed through the criminal justice system; thus the footage becomes admitted as evidence to substantiate the crime. Per the Harvard Law Review (2015), “Video purports to be an objective, unbiased, transparent observer of events that evenhandedly reproduces reality for the viewer and from an evidentiary standpoint, video evidence often will be overwhelming proof at trial” (p. 1813). As police departments begin utilizing BWCs, it is probable the footage will be required by the courts and mandated as a protocol in order to proceed with trial.
As the current climate for being a police officer becomes increasingly precarious, law enforcement must have the ability to counter the heinous and recurrent acts of violence against them. Coudert et al. (2015) argue, “Motivation for equipping police officers with body-worn cameras is the need to protect police officers from increasing violent interactions with the public” (p. 7). The BWC technology affords the opportunity for immediate review of the footage while on patrol, coupled with evidentiary value following an incident. Historically, information following an incident would be difficult to obtain or exceedingly delayed, absent witnesses or other video recordings. Optimistically, the mere prevalence of the BWC may deter violence against a police officer and/or assist in the capture of a suspect(s).
In addition to deterring and detecting police abuse, protecting the safety of officer, and preserving evidence, Henderson (2016) relates that BWC recordings may further be in law enforcement’s interests by accurately publicizing efforts to combat crime. The BWC footage can be used to promote education and deterrence to the public and exemplify police actions. Public Information Officers can utilize the BWC footage to promote positive relations via social media dissemination, at town hall meetings, and through various media outlets.
An unintended consequence of the BWC is its ability to capture peripheral information (i.e., subjects, vehicles, actions) outside the center focus of a police officer or their ability to recall specific detailed information. Henderson. (2016) relates, “Viewing of video will yield information not noticed by officers, and—given video enhancement capabilities—information not previously noticeable” (p. 39). Officers addressing a particular person may be unaware a crime occurred in their immediate vicinity, placing another suspect or vehicle in the vantage point of the BWC footage. Additionally, the footage recorded can be used by the officer(s) to document an incident and prior to testifying in court. Per Dillon (2017), “In the past two years, police unions have successfully fought attempts to prevent officers from viewing body camera footage before writing their reports following police-involved shootings and other serious incidents.”
BWCs can also act as progressive tools to encourage learning and exemplify responses to incidents. BWC footage can contribute to police officers’ training and illustrate how to perform and react to difficult encounters with the public. The necessity for police training videos using reenactments may soon become obsolete as law enforcement agencies will collect footage from nearly every type of incident and calls for service on BWCs.
As one of the largest police departments in the country prepares to supply their officers with BWCs, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is calculating the implementation in an unprecedented manner; using feedback from the citizens of Los Angeles City to determine their BWC policy. In a recent newspaper article (Mather, 2017) Matt Johnson, the president of the Police Commission, stated, “This is probably the most significant issue around the use of body cameras. It’s our mission to get this policy right.” The article relates LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has expressed concerns about releasing the footage, saying “he wants to protect victims’ privacy and the integrity of criminal or civil cases.” But he has been pressured to reconsider, particularly after high-profile shootings by officers. But, the Chief cautioned, the policy ultimately adopted by the Commission would be “very much a balance of competing interests. Probably nobody will get exactly what it is they think should be the perfect policy,” he said. “Everybody has a different opinion on this.”
The article (Mather 2017) identified the Los Angeles Mayor, Eric Garcetti, was confident the process would result in “forward-thinking policies that increase transparency and accountability. These videos are of people generally on the worst day of their lives — and sometimes, the last day of their lives.” he said. “To put those out without a very thoughtful, reasoned policy, I think, would not do service to the public.”
On March 16, 2017, Los Angeles City hosted a public forum discussing the implementation of BWCs for the LAPD. At the public forum, there was one group of citizens which discussed the importance of having video of police interactions; highlighting the 1991 video which exposed the LAPD using excessive force against Rodney King. However, the group was worried the BWC footage would benefit the police at the expense of the public. The Los Angeles ABC news affiliate was present at this public forum (Hernandez & MacBride, 2017) and reported Matthew Johnson said “We want to have a policy that will work the vast majority of the time. That is agnostic to whether it is favorable to the police or not favorable to the police. That should not be a consideration.” While numerous opinions were conveyed at the forum, the LAPD has decided it will move forward with the implementation and will purchase enough BWCs for all patrol officers by the year end.
Negative Consequences for Implementation
As law enforcement agencies nationwide react to the societal response as public trust diminishes, the decision to purchase BWCs appears to be forthcoming (Martin, 2016). The Harvard Law Review (2015) discussed as one initially views body camera capabilities, it may appear to be the end-all for police departments attempting to be transparent with their communities and investigate civilian complaints competently. Given the recent public demand for video evidence following numerous high-profile police incidents where subjects were killed, such as Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner (Funke & Susman, 2016), the inability to produce will soon be unacceptable. As Ariel et al. (2017) discuss:
This enthusiasm for a technological “fix” to the perceived crisis in police legitimacy is unsurprising, as it is far cheaper to implement technology than retrain officers or solve more endemic social problems. As a result, BWCs are viewed as a panacea for enhancing police compliance with procedures and as “the ultimate witness”. (p. 293)
One particular area of concern is the BWCs inability to capture a full-spectrum, panoramic, or a multi-dimensional perspective of an event. Henderson (2016) argues there is no flawless or unadulterated video as the camera angle can itself suggest a cognitive frame, thus affect a plethora of determinations. Persons viewing a BWC recording in and of itself, absent further information from the police officer(s) involved, subject(s) being recorded, and/or witness(es), will only intake partial data at face value. From the author’s research, the conclusion regarding appropriateness applicable to police misconduct and potential policy violation(s), is typically revealed following a comprehensive investigation, which includes statements from the above involved individuals (personal communication, March 14, 2017).
As BWC video footage frequency and demand continues to increase (CBS News, 2017), public opinion is hastily formed prior to the commencement of an investigation. A similar consequence may occur in court, as the requests for BWC footage – however fragmentary or convoluted – has the potential to become the “star witness”. This restates the problem of the viewers’ assumption that the video is all-inclusive; disregard of all the other evidence, including the officer’s testimony, which was not portrayed in the BWC video.
Police BWC footage recorded during the course of employment may be deemed a public record and classified for release under disclosure specific state or federal laws such as the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. § 552). The author observed that following many police response events, specifically use-of-force incidents, an internal or external investigation is required to determine if policy or law violations occurred (personal communication, March 14, 2017). Per the Harvard Law Review (2015), most states have disclosure exemptions for records pending an investigation. If state disclosure exemptions are not adhered to, coupled with the public’s demand for the immediate release of BWC recordings, law enforcement’s ability to accurately relay the facts from a case may be hindered. Coudert, et al. (2015) discuss additional implications placed on police departments, not only in terms of privacy but regarding the additional workload responsibilities following a public records request(s). The author’s research revealed there is potential for public record requests to access BWC footage which would require police department personnel to review an extensive amount of footage in order to blur faces, mute portions of audio and redact other sensitive information (personal communication, March 14, 2017). In an attempt to reduce the quantity of recorded footage, Coudert et al. (2015) discuss:
[The] ACLU suggested that only videos related to incidents involving the use of force, complaints against officers, or possible misconducts should be stored by police department. Only those videos would be subject to public disclosure. (p. 762)
Specific and definite disclosure policies, including an increased budget and personnel, should be solidified prior to BWC testing or deployment.
Over the past couple years, following the Ferguson Police Department’s shooting death of Michael Brown (Funke & Susman, 2016), many police departments nationwide have refocused their attention on improving public trust, retraining officers and introducing new policing concepts in an attempt to rectify the shattered relations. The Harvard Law Review (2015) states, “The [BWC] adoption should also not be used as an excuse to stifle continued conversation about the root causes of police violence and fractured community relations, as body cameras alone will never be the hoped-for cure-all” (p. 1797). While police departments implement the use of the BWC, its function should be viewed as another tool to assist and not stifle other possibilities necessary to improve police-public relations.
The Harvard Law Review (2015) also states, “Privacy is a counterpoint to access: increasing transparency necessarily means more people will view body-camera footage, which will frequently feature civilians who may not want the recordings of themselves shared” (p. 1808). As officers deploy throughout their respective jurisdictions, the BWC will capture all persons within the camera’s lens, with or without their knowledge. If necessary, or required by policy, the footage may be stored for evidentiary purposes, and potentially released via public records disclosure laws, or via the media. As an unintended consequence, uninvolved parties may be visible in the peripheral footage. Coudert et al. (2015) argue BWCs may have an effect on our basic liberties, such as the freedom of movement, when footage captured is time-stamped, which can reveal the location of a person at the particular time of recording or infringe on the right to privacy in one’s home. The author’s research indicates the use of BWCs creates two types of privacy concerns: as with any employee, the police officers’ right to privacy; not to be monitored during their work hours, and the other regarding the right of citizens not to be recorded in public and private places (personal communication, March 14, 2017). The privacy concerns further extend as one examines the topic of whether the BWC should continuously record throughout the duration of the officer’s shift.
Per Taylor (2016):
Purely from an accountability perspective, the ideal policy for body-worn cameras would be for continuous recording throughout a police officer’s shift, eliminating any possibility that an officer could evade the recording of abuses committed on duty. The problem is that continuous recording raises many thorny privacy issues, for the public as well as for officers (American Civil Liberties Union, 2015, p. 128).
Currently, much of the data obtained indicates that many of the police departments using BWCs only require their officers to initiate recording during enforcement contacts with a member of the public; though policy requirements vary per agency (U.S. Department of Justice, 2014).
California Penal Code Section 633 (2013) exempts police officers from the requirement to inform suspects they are being recorded. Many law enforcement agencies use this law to extend the exemption to BWC recordings. As previously indicated, the civilizing effect occurs when both the police officer wearing the BWC and the subject being contacted by the officer is aware of the BWC recording. Absent this information, the result may be varied and counterproductive. The contrary may occur regarding willful participation from the public. Henderson (2016) argues, “The mere preservation of that information is a meaningful harm, if nothing else because the relevant parties know there is always a risk of its further consumption and dissemination. Thus recording can also harm law enforcement interests if it deters citizen cooperation and assistance where persons fear criminal reprisal” (p. 970). Coleman (2013) related there may be public concern over BWC footage release as it may be used for entertainment purposes, thus people may choose to stop talking to police to avoid being filmed. After years of working to ensure openness, transparency, and minimize barriers, there is potential BWCs could cause a retrograde step. Law enforcement heavily relies on community involvement, specifically when investigating criminal activity. Public fear or resistance to being recorded resulting from police BWCs, may cripple or severely hamper their abilities to provide justice. If so, we may find ourselves living an Orwellian reality (Orwell, 1949); depicting a futuristic totalitarian state with no trust of one another.
From the author’s research, there are many BWC manufacturers and software storage options available for police departments to choose; thus law enforcement agencies must be cognizant and cautious in their decision to purchase (personal communication, March 29, 2017). As increased transparency repeatedly appears to be in the forefront of factors to purchase BWCs, it is imperative no manipulation or editing capabilities are afforded (Ariel et al., 2017). For example, Taylor (2016) argues, “The ability of officers to ‘edit on the fly’ fundamentally undermines any potential benefits the cameras introduce. That is why avoiding opportunities for redaction is key to implementation” (p. 128).
In order for true transparency, the public must have complete confidence in law enforcement. Bud (2016) argues not only is legislation necessary to assist law enforcement agencies navigate through the plethora of BWC privacy concerns, there is a definite need for enforceable legislation to ensure the BWC footage continues to be impartial, objective, and untampered evidence in investigations. Per the author’s research (personal communication, March 14, 2017), in most circumstances, police supervisors are assigned to oversee the reviewing BWC footage subsequent to a misconduct allegation. Bud (2016) debates:
However, placing the locus of control with police officers themselves results in the strange situation where the organization that is meant to be held accountable will have the power to prevent particular recordings from being created in the first place or shared in the aftermath. (p. 117)
From the author’s research, while this concept may initially appear sensible, the practicality of giving an external entity full control of BWC responsibilities may be problematic and/or impractical (personal communication, March 14, 2017).
The BWC recording activation varies per manufacturer and can severely alter the data captured. With some BWCs, e.g., Axon Enterprise Incorporated (Inc.), the camera is always on; as it buffers the last 30 seconds of video (not audio) – meaning after the recording activation by the officer, the 30 seconds of images that led up to that moment are recorded. Per Axon Enterprise Inc., this buffer was added to protect the privacy of police officers; thus it may not capture key sounds or words which prompt an incident.
As police departments test and implement BWCs nationally, the policies and procedures governing its use should be specific and readily available to the public to achieve true transparency. It is my opinion after reviewing numerous BWC articles, documents, and protocols, both nationally and internationally, all policies and procedures should be available to the public at any time, with ease. This openness ensures there are absolutely no secrets, speculation, or guessing as to why law enforcement responds to incidents in a certain manner. Coudert et al. (2015) argue, “It seems that, despite this guidance, police agencies adopting body-worn cameras do not disclose the content of the policies to citizens upon requests” (p. 749). This convolution and lack of transparency counters the intent of BWCs and may further erode public trust in law enforcement.
Law enforcement agencies across the nation are seemingly headed toward implementation of BWCs following major public demand and scrutiny of their lack of transparency. While research indicates the desire or willingness from most law enforcement agencies to purchase and implement BWCs, the unintended consequences tend to favor law enforcement overall. Per the Harvard Law Review (2015), “The [BWC] proliferation over the next decade will inevitably change the nature of policing in unexpected ways, quite possibly to the detriment of the citizens the cameras are intended to protect” (p. 1797). While the ultimate goal is enhance community trust, strengthen accountability and maintain the integrity of the law enforcement community, BWC footage is confirming the positive actions of the majority; subsequently minimizing erroneous and frivolous claims against police officers.
While Coudert et al. (2015) agree the analysis of BWC footage will assist in the investigation/resolution of complaints against officers and may enhance law enforcement transparency, they argue, “Technology is no more than a means to achieve a goal. It cannot, by itself, build better relations between police and the general public, improve policing or solve inherent community problems.” (p. 762). To conclude, BWCs appear to have the potential to deliver another record of events in the fight for transparency.
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