Technological innovation has had considerable impact on various aspects of policing including the use of force, facilitating criminal investigation, and enhancing police efficiency among others. What is more, technology has redefined the observation and surveillance of the police as well as citizens. Some of the tools that have revolutionized these processes are the dashboard camera and closed circuit surveillance television (Ready & Young, 2015). In addition, law enforcement agencies have been using digital and video cameras for the past few decades. Technological advances have resulted in improvements in the camera equipment especially in terms of size and quality of images. A notable example of this development is the body-worn camera (BWC) also referred to as the body camera or simply body cam (Miller & Toliver, 2014). Whereas certain law enforcement agencies have leveraged these technological advancements, the majority of those that opted to overlook the devices were simply uninformed about their potential worth or have decided not to adopt them altogether. The goal of this literature review is to discuss the impacts of body-worn cameras (BWCs) from the perspectives of police officers and citizens.
Body-Worn Cameras Benefits
A number of studies have been conducted to explore the benefits for both the police and public associated with the adoption of BWCs by the police department. These studies cover the police departments across the globe including US and UK. The researches have implemented different methodologies. Some of them utilized comparative design while others used independent evaluation to assess the outcomes of implementing BWCs. The findings of the literature concerning the benefits of these divices are described in the following subsections.
Enhancing the Legitimacy and Transparency of the Police
The transparency is defined as the extent, to which a police department is ready to open itself to the external scrutiny. The advocates of BWC technology often cite enhanced police transparency as the rationale for implementing it. According to Harris (2010), the transparency serves to show the citizens that the police departments adhere to procedural justice in their interaction with people, which is crucial for increasing the perceived legitimacy of the police. Miller and Toliver (2014) state that BWCs contribute significantly to the transparency, which, subsequently, results in public trust. The latter is beneficial for the community. For example, it has been argued that BWCs provided objective documentation of police-citizen interaction, which allowed reviewing the conduct of the officers (Ariel, Farrar, & Sutherland, 2015). The recordings also have the potential of lessening the mistrust likely to exist between law enforcement officers and members of minority groups (Coldren, Huntoon, & Medaris, 2013).
The research has been conducted to examine the perceptions and views of people of the police use of BWCs. A study performed through an online survey of citizens of two cities, Aberdeen and Refrewshire, showed high public support for BWCs – 76% and 64% respectively (ODS Consulting, 2011, p. 15). Furthermore, in the Plymouth Head Camera Project implemented in England, 36 victims of crimes who encountered police wearing BWCs participated (White, 2014, p. 19). Out of 36 participants, 26 individuals (72%) indicated that BWC was useful in their interactions with the police while 81% of the participants stated that the device made them feel safer (White, 2014, p. 19). Nevertheless, these findings are not close to being conclusive. White (2014) alluded that the public support for BWCs is still not clear, which is also the case of their influence on public trust in law enforcement agencies.
Impact of Behavior of the Police
Those advocating for the implementation of BWCs argue that this technology has the potential of changing the behavior of police officers towards interacting with the public. According to Harris (2010), the BWC technology can compel them to comply with the provisions of the Fourth Amendment related to the issues of search and seizure. Numerous empirical studies to examine the impact of BWCs on the behavior of police officers have been conducted. The research carried at Rialto Police Department by Farrar and Ariel (2013) after BWCs implementation showed that complaints from citizens against police officers reduced by 88% from 24 complaints in 2011, one year prior to the research, to only 3 complaints after the completion of the project (p. 8). In addition, there was a drop in the police use of force by about 60%, from 61 to 25 cases, before and after the commencement of BWC program respectively(Farrar & Ariel, 2013, p. 9). Farrar and Ariel (2013) also revealed two important findings suggesting that the reduction in the use of force happened due to the BWCs. The first finding states that the incidents doubled in the police shifts without BWCs as compared to the shifts with them. Second, after reviewing the cases, in which the force was used, it was determined that the police officers not wearing BWCs faced higher probability of using force even in the absence of physical threat.
The impact of BWCs on the behavior and attitude of police officers was also analyzed at the Mesa Police Department (MPD, 2013). The findings of this research suggest that the police officers had positive attitude concerning the likely effects of BWCs. For instance, 77% of them claimed that BWCs would compel officers to act in a more professional manner (MPD, 2013, p. 11). The same research examined the behavior of the police officers through the complaints, which the citizens filed, as well. The sample comprised of 50 police officers wearing BWCs and 50 non-BWCs-wearing officers. They represented the control group. The evaluation lasted for 8 months. The research showed that BWCs-wearing group had only 8 complaints, which is significantly lower as compared to the non-BWCs one, which had 23 complaints. What is more, the researchers compared the number of complaints filed against the BWC group before and after the study period and reported a decline in the complaints (from 30 to 12). It suggested that the implementation of the BWC technology resulted in a sharp drop in the number of complaints against law enforcement officers(MPD, 2013, p. 12).
Another study evaluated the impact of BWCs on the officers’ behavior at the Phoenix (AZ) Police Department (White, 2014). This research is still ongoing. Preliminary findings showed that before the adoption of BWC system, the police officers at the department had either negative or ambivalent attitude. Nevertheless, after the BWC technology was implemented, the significant improvements in the attitude of the police officers emerged (White, 2013). Studies conducted in the UK to examine how BWCs influence the behavior of people working in the same field have revealed the same findings. For instance, a 14.3% drop in the complaints filed by the citizens was documented in the Plymouth Head Camera Project after 6 months of the program operation as compared to six months before it (White, 2014, p. 15). Nevertheless, it is not clear whether the drop in the complaints can be attributed to the changes in the behavior of police officers who restrained from using force or to the shift in the behavior of the citizens who started to show less aggression. One more possible reason for it is changes in the reporting patterns since BWCs might lessen the likelihood of citizens filling illegitimate claims (White, 2014).
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Impact on the Behavior of Citizens
Those advocating for the adoption of BWC technology in law enforcement system also argue that it will help enhance the behavior of citizens towards interacting with law enforcement officers (Coudert, Butin, & Le Métayer, 2015). In this regard, BWCs supporters suggest that citizens are more likely to be compliant and respectful in the presence of an officer wearing a BWC. However, there is scanty evidence for this claim with the exception of circumstantial media reports. According to Harris (2010), the officers wearing BWCs in crime-prone areas have observed that the individuals presented considerably lower antisocial behavior towards the policemen with head cameras is in the vicinity. White (2013) alludes that BWCs have significantly greater impact on public behavior than vehicle-fitted cameras and street CCTV that can be attributed to the fact that they are not limited in terms of the location for deployment. In addition, BWCs are more conspicuous as compared to CCTV cameras, which tend to blend with the environment after certain period of time. The Renfrewshire and Aberdeen research studies (cited in White, 2013) investigated assaults targeting police officers in order to determine whether BWCs could influence the behavior of the citizens. Concerning the study on Aberdeen city, it was stated that the police officers without BWCs were assaulted more often than those with cameras.
In the US, the empirical evaluation seems to suggest that BWCs have the potential of enhancing the behavior of citizens. For instance, according to the MPD (2013) study, the police officers were asked to state their thoughts concerning the impact of the BWCs on the behavior of citizens. The majority of them were doubtful, and only 45% indicated that the cameras would compel citizens to behave in a more respectful manner (MPD, 2013, p. 11). The Phoenix Police Department study provides anecdotal evidence suggesting that BWCs might have a civilizing impact on members of the public after they discover that they are being recorded (White, 2013). In addition, in the Rialto Police Department, there was a significant decline in the use of force by police officers. Farrar and Ariel (2013) partly attributed it to changes in the behavior of citizens. In other words, there is the possibility that people might have changed their conduct towards interacting with police wearing BWCs by being more obedient and polite, which, subsequently, reduced the number of incidents that required officers to use force.
Resolution of Lawsuits and Complaints Against the Police
Backers of BWCs also assert that this technology will expedite the resolution of lawsuits and complaints that citizens file against the police officers (Drover & Ariel, 2015). Although empirical evidence concerning the impact of BWCs on these claims is inexistent, one can suggest that it is positive. Jennings, Fridell, and Lynch (2014) state that police departments commit substantial resources towards investigating complaints against the officers; nevertheless, these complaints are often excluded as “not sustained” due to lack of witnesses or the fact that a complaint is basically a word of a citizen against that of an officer. With video evidence, this dynamic has changed. As Jennings, Lynch, and Fridell (2015) explain, the evidence obtained from BWCs will lessen the time needed for resolving the issues as well as reduce the time dedicated to the complaint resolution. According to Harris (2010), video data obtained from these cameras can offer citizens extra information to help them comprehend the behavior of the police officers. White (2013) elucidates that BWCs reduce the possibility of citizens to file illegitimate complaints against policemen since they become aware that the video evidence will be utilized in discrediting their claims. Farrar and Ariel (2013) stated that being able to access video evidence has resulted in speedy resolution of the prospective complaints.
Impact on the Prosecution and Arrest
Those advocating for the adoption of BWCs in law enforcement claim that the information, which the cameras provide, will simplify the process of arresting and prosecuting offenders since it is captured on the real-time basis and provides permanent record (Ready & Young, 2015). This assertion is yet to be empirically examined. Nevertheless, findings of the Plymouth Head Camera Project showed that the BWCs enhanced the ability of police officers to document the occurrence of violent crimes. With appropriate evidence, they were more likely to be resolved via guilty pleas instead of undergoing lengthy court processes. Ready and Young (2015) further state that the speedy resolution of cases leads to a decrease in time that the police officers allot to paperwork. Therefore, there is an increase in time that they spend on patrolling. White (2013, p. 15) reported that cases with BWCs evidence were 70-80% less likely to proceed to trial. Using them can also provide data that can be utilized for strengthening the prosecution. A survey conducted by police officers from the MPD provided similar findings: the majority of police officers believed that BWCs could enhance the quality of evidence.
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Impact on the Police Training
Those supporting the adoption of BWCs by law enforcement departments have proposed the thesis that the technology could be utilized as a key tool for training employees (Drover & Ariel, 2015). Reviewing the behavior of police officers can be particularly important in critical incidents, for example, use of force. It will be important essential for allowing police officers to assess their work areas that need improvement, which will increase police professionalism. In the US, the Miami Police Department utilizes BWCs for training purposes (White, 2014). Also, BWCs are crucial in investigating critical incidents like the officers using force. Thus, the scanty evidence shows the potential use of BWCs as a training tool and facilitating fair reviews of incidents.
Body-Worn Cameras Concerns
Despite the positive impact of BWC system, certain concerns regarding this technology have been raised. The first one relates to the privacy of citizens (Drover & Ariel, 2015). Taking video or image without a warrant is considered violation of privacy as the federal law and regulations, which most states adopted, stipulate. In addition, in most states, one needs to get two-party consent to recording conversations deemed private. Therefore, recording audio by using BWCs increases the possibility of the emergence of civil lawsuits against the police officers (Harris, 2010). In addition, BWCs tend to capture everything within its vicinity including unsuspected individuals. Harris states that, confidential informants and citizens might not be willing to offer information to the police if they know that the interaction will be recorded. BWCs have also been criticized for exacerbating the emotional traumas of crime victims (Farrar & Ariel, 2013).
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The concerns about the privacy of BWCs have also been raised with respect to their adoption by law enforcement agencies. It has resulted in the resistance from the police officers (Drover & Ariel, 2015). The same resistance was witnessed in relation to the adoption of dash cameras in the 1990s. Police unions have confronted the implementation of BWCs on the grounds that it changes the working conditions for officers. Other concerns cited against the above-mentioned devices include the safety and health of officers as well as vast initial costs of the implementation procedure. Particular police scholars have argued that each officer currently carries many pieces of equipment including a flashlight, handcuffs, and radio among others; thus, adding another item increases the burden and raises safety issues (Drover & Ariel, 2015). The adoption of BWC technology is a costly undertaking for the police departments.
There is scanty evidence regarding the impact of BWCs. There are various issues regarding them that are largely unexplored. Whereas BWCs are reported to influence the behavior of the police, it is not clear whether they are actually responsible for these behavioral changes or whether the changes occurred because of enhanced citizens’ behavior or alteration in their reporting. Therefore, there is a need for further research. It has to explore the perspectives on the use of BWCs that affect both the police officers and citizens to help in augmenting the existing literature on the proposed issue.
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