Academic journal article Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology

The Effects of Body-Worn Cameras on Police Activity and Police-Citizen Encounters: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Academic journal article Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology

The Effects of Body-Worn Cameras on Police Activity and Police-Citizen Encounters: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Recent deadly police officer-involved shooting events in Baltimore, Charlotte, Chicago, Ferguson, and elsewhere in the United States have exposed very concerning rifts in the relationships between the police and the communities they protect and serve. (1) Placing body-worn cameras (BWCs) on police officers has been suggested as one potentially powerful response to the current police legitimacy crisis in many U.S. cities. Advocates suggest there are many benefits associated with placing BWCs on police officers. (3) BWCs are suggested to increase transparency and citizen views of police legitimacy, improve police and citizen behaviors during encounters, enhance evidence collected for the resolution of complaints against the police and the arrest and prosecution of offenders, and provide improved opportunities for police training. (4) The Obama Administration proposed that Congress provide the U.S. Department of Justice with $75 million to fund the purchase of and technical assistance for BWCs. (5) In 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that over one-quarter of the approximately 18,000 U.S. police departments had adopted the BWC technology, and the number of police departments with BWC programs has undoubtedly increased since then. (6)

Like other police technologies, the rapid adoption of BWCs has occurred within a low-information environment. As Professor Cynthia Lum cautions, the rapid adoption of police technologies in the absence of rigorous empirical evidence about their impact can lead to unanticipated and unintended consequences that may harm both police and public interests. (7) Social scientists are only beginning to develop scientific knowledge about the effects, expected and unexpected, of the BWC technology. (8) For instance, the evidence on the effects of BWCs on the civility of police-citizen encounters is still somewhat unclear. Several studies find that BWCs reduce complaints against police officers and officer use of force reports, (9) while other studies find no statistically significant reductions in complaints against BWC officers (10) and a concerning increase in assaults on officers with BWCs. (11)

There is also growing evidence that suggests BWCs may result in increased enforcement activity by police officers. Controlled evaluations reveal that BWC officers make more arrests and citations relative to their non-BWC counterparts. (12) These unexpected outcomes could undermine improvements in police-citizen encounters associated with adoption of the technology in urban environments. To some observers, too many police departments engage in excessive surveillance and enforcement practices in urban neighborhoods. (13)

We examine the effects of BWCs on police activity and police-citizen encounters in Las Vegas, Nevada. A randomized controlled trial design involving more than 400 Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) patrol officers tested the impacts of randomly-allocated BWCs on complaints, use of force reports, and officer activity outcomes for treatment officers relative to control officers. (14) Part 1 reviews the existing literature on the impact of BWCs on the civility of police-citizen encounters and police officer work activities. Parts II and III describe the Las Vegas randomized experiment and the statistical models used to analyze the outcome data. Part IV reveals that our experimental analyses found statistically significant reductions in complaints and officer use of force reports for treatment officers relative to control officers. However, we also find statistically significant increases in arrests and citations made by treatment officers relative to control officers. We discuss implications of these findings for BWC policy and practices in the conclusion.

I. LITERATURE REVIEW

A. INFLUENCE ON THE CIVILITY OF POLICE-CITIZEN ENCOUNTERS

Two theoretical perspectives, deterrence and self-awareness, are commonly applied to support the position that placing BWCs on officers will improve the civility of police-citizen interactions by deterring undesirable behaviors (i. …

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