Academic journal article South Dakota Law Review

Best Practices, Challenges and Opportunities for Body Worn Camera Programs

Academic journal article South Dakota Law Review

Best Practices, Challenges and Opportunities for Body Worn Camera Programs

Article excerpt


The history of technology and science in the investigation of criminal acts is long and inclusive. In 1902, fingerprint evidence was used to gain a conviction in England. (1) By 1911, the first murder case using fingerprint evidence resulted in a guilty verdict in the United States. (2) By the end of the 20th century, visual and chemical comparisons used as evidence included hair strands, bite-marks, tire tracks, shoe prints, rifling marks on bullets, and extractor and firing pin marks on shell casings. (3) Eventually, however, new science led to the overturn of convictions where previous science had "proved" someone guilty. (4) This has been the case with arson investigations, rape cases, and terrorist bombings, to name a few. (5)

The most recent technological advance in the areas of police investigation and community policing is the body worn camera (BWC). (6) As of November 2014, forty-one of the 100 largest cities in America had some or all their police officers recording citizen interactions via body worn cameras and twenty-five more had plans to initiate some type of BWC program. (7) BWC programs are adopted internally through police departments' administrative processes and externally with state legislation requiring or recommending BWC programs to be adopted. (8) Much of the internal and external motivation behind the adoption of BWC programs is the research-supported belief that BWCs reduce use-of-force incidents and citizen complaints. (9)

Questions remain, however, on the full range of BWC programs' contributions. BWCs are the seemingly inevitable next step in evidence collection technology. (10) Still, they may not be a cost-effective addition to police departments throughout the United States. Going forward, municipal police departments must address the question of their contributions to (1) the administration of field operations and (2) the management of community relations. Some of the required assessments are quantifiable. The financial costs of introducing and maintaining BWC programs can be measured, as can the costs of responding to officer misconduct complaints (in and out of courtrooms) and the impact BWC programs have on successful policing practices. Less accessible factors to the evaluation of BWC programs include their impact on implicit bias among officers and community members, as well as their impact on democratic principles and civil liberties when police interactions with the public are recorded.

This article seeks to contribute to the literature on BWC programs by addressing the value of this technology through a principal-agent theoretical lens. As such, our focus is on the value of BWC programs to law enforcement agencies and personnel (agents of the public) and to community members, identified here as the principals. The principal-agent theoretical framework helps us to better understand the expectations (sometimes demands) of the component populations within a community and how police administrators ought to move forward in consideration of initiating or continuing a BWC program. While community or external dynamics are important in this consideration, they are not the only set of factors responsible for the success or failure of a BWC program in a community. Internal relationships are an equal partner in the mix. The agents (i.e., administrators, labor representatives, and police officers) constitute the internal groups affected by the dynamics of BWC policies and procedures. Their interests and capabilities must also be considered within an investigation of best practices in the use of BWC technology. In sum, we advance the call for examination of BWC programs through the lens of both principal and agent.


Community members and police officers are engaged in a somewhat traditional principal-agent relationship, with the community in the role of principals, and officers in the role of agents. …

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