Pros and Cons of Having Body Camera: Critical Analysis of Articles

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Police departments are becoming more and more integrated with technological solutions as they look to fight and prevent crime from different angles. One source of technology that has become popular among today’s law enforcement is body-worn cameras or BWCs. In this paper, I will summarize 8 research articles that have discussed views on body-worn cameras by not only those in law enforcement but also those incarcerated. Both the pros and cons of having body cameras are discussed within these articles. The problem that the articles describe is not necessarily one that requires a solution, but more research to be done on the topic of body cameras and how they impact the public and the police.

The work of Katz, Huff, and Webb study the Phoenix Police Department and 969 officers are on the force. Out of those officers, 780 were present when the survey was given out and only 569 of those officers who were given a survey agreed to take it. The officers were told that the survey was voluntary, and they had to sign an informed consent paper to be aware that the survey would be linked to their employee records. The dependent variable for the study was taken by having 120 officers out of the original group of those who were given a survey and asking them to wear a body-worn camera. Of the 120 officers, 49 agreed to wear a camera and were assigned to a volunteer group as 99 of the other officers declined to wear a camera out of the 120 original officers asked. The independent variable consisted of asking the officers a series of questions that pertained to the use of body cameras and their perceptions of the use of the cameras in their own line of work and in dealing with the public. 125 officers were examined in the study and the authors used data to create the percentage that led to the control variable in the model.

Bivariate analysis was also used in using officer demographics and their viewpoints on body cameras to test for the relationships between the two. T-tests were used to examine officer views on cameras, activity levels, and self-reported attitudes on the original survey given. A multivariate model was also used to account for the bivariate findings. The bivariate results show that officers with a higher level of education versus those without have a higher level of support for wearing and using body-worn cameras than those with less education. Those who were in the volunteer group of officers were more likely to have an advanced degree than those who refused to wear a body camera. According to Katz, Huff, and Webb (2018), there were differences between volunteer officers and those who refused to wear the cameras regarding on how they saw the cameras impacting citizen behavior, with a mean of 2.6 compared to 2.4 on a scale from 1 to 4. They did not find differences of value in the rest of the areas, therefore the authors Katz, Huff, and Webb (2018) conclude that the significance is focused on the demographic areas of the study. The multivariate results showed the same result as the bivariate as that the officers who had a higher educational level were more likely to want to wear the body cameras versus those officers who refused to wear the cameras and had less educational attainment. The same went for whether or not the officers felt that citizen behavior was impacted by the camera use, officers who had more support for the cameras or who were in the volunteer group showed more support for the cameras impacting their relationship with the community versus those who were in the group that refused to wear the cameras.

The conclusion of this study was that the demographics of the officers, including their educational level and perceptions of citizen impact on body camera use, were the most significant in the variables. Official levels of activity by the officers and the use of force with the cameras showed no significant results. The study had a limitation to it as one department was used and therefore could not have a solid set of findings without being altered when other departments were added. The implications this could have with other studies is that the use of the body-worn cameras in other departments and the views within those departments may result in better policies being made if there are officers who are more receptive to the technology. Officers who are of more resistance to the cameras would result in an opposite effect with less compliance with policy and working towards better goals of the camera use.

Taylor and Lee conducted a study in Australia to analyze the viewpoints of inmates in four Australian states and within those prisons. 907 interviews were done and used the Drug Use Monitoring programme in Australia to use the information from detainees for their study. Trained interviewers conduct interviews with the inmates within 96 hours after they are arrested. The survey was split into two parts, the first involved questions about demographics, drug use, and history, while the second part asked the inmates about their views of police body cameras and their experience with police using the technology. They used a Likert scale to measure the responses from 1 to 5. The interviews were split into two periods in 2015, one was done in the summer and the other was in the fall. The four Australian states that were included were South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, and Western Australia. According to Taylor and Lee (2019), 75.9 of police inmates agree that it is a good idea for police to wear body cameras, and the older the inmate the more likely they were to agree with the use of body cameras for police, with no differences between male and female data, they concluded (Taylor and Lee, 2019). Answers for the views on body cameras were as follows: evidence, accountability, and fairness were the best things about police body cameras. The main reason for disliking the cameras was that it portrayed an invasion of privacy on the inmates.

The modification, misrepresentation, and manipulation of police body camera footage were also reasons inmates had issues with the use of body cameras. With the manipulation of footage, inmates said that they felt the police could turn on and off the footage whenever they liked to show themselves in a better light and that they were. On the other hand, inmates felt that it could help capture any police wrongdoings if they acted in an improper manner. As with the issue of manipulating the footage, inmates had concerns over the police modifying the body camera footage after they got back to the station and after arrest. There have been reports that the cameras are easily doctored and there are vulnerabilities in the system that make it easy to modify the footage. Inmates believed that the police could use the information from the cameras could be fixed to where the evidence shown in court is given to the liking of the police and not shown the whole information of the situation and arrest of the inmates involved. The conclusion of this article is that inmates of four Australian states felt that police use of body cameras were a good idea because of accountability of the police and getting the evidence with the footage. The potential for recording police use of force and any questionable behavior by the police. The answers to the interview questions primarily came up as being afraid of police manipulating the footage and as Taylor and Lee state, the police officer can become a producer of the footage and can be used against the inmates versus helping the arrest to be documented for use in court as evidence, Taylor and Lee (2019) concluded. There is still a lack of knowledge on understanding the impact and effect the body cameras have on those involved being filmed with the cameras.

Smykla et al. start out their article by reviewing studies on the perceptions of body cameras from leaders in law enforcement. They first did a literature review on previous studies which looked into the use of body cameras and the viewpoints of those in the law enforcement communities as well as scholars as to why there is a push for or against the use of body cameras. They then reviewed 6 levels of studies that show the impact of body cameras on crime and police officers’ perceptions on the body cameras. However, few of the studies showed the public perceptions and complaints of the body cameras, therefore, needing more review. The current study conducted by Smykla et al. consists of looking at the perceptions of body-worn cameras of law enforcement leaders in Sunshine County. For some background information, the leaders of the Sunshine law enforcement community would meet once a month to discuss concerns, and the researchers then administered a survey to those leaders to find out their perceptions on the cameras in their community. The response rate was 67% of those who received the survey and agreed to take part in the survey. Twenty-nine items were used to find command reception to body cameras. Survey questions were based on previous studies done and discussions with the leaders. The questions are divided into 8 parts and a Likert scale was used to determine how they felt about each question. A total of twenty-four surveys were returned to the researchers. The researchers used descriptive statistics to analyze the data. According to Smykla et al. (2015), the findings show that half of the law enforcement leaders were supportive of body cameras. A majority felt there was no impact on citizen interactions by having the cameras. There was a consensus that not many leaders felt that officer effectiveness on the job was affected by the cameras, according to Smykla et al. (2015). Most believe there will be a positive impact on evidence with the cameras.

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With those who had been in law enforcement for less than twenty years were more likely to be in disagreement with the idea of body cameras versus those who had more years of experience. Non-whites were more likely to be against body cameras than their white counterparts, and lower educational attainment showed less support for cameras than those who had higher education. Females were in disagreement when asked if body cameras would help citizens with police legitimacy. There was a general overall positive consensus on the idea of body-worn cameras. As for the impact of future research, there needs to be more done in larger sample sizes and perceptions pre and post-survey need to be documented to correctly have insight on the views over time.

Goetschel and Peha conducted a survey with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police to see their perception of body cameras within their department. Questions were administered on a Likert scale with the responses going from one to five and respondents were also asked how familiar they were with using body cameras. A lieutenant within the Bureau emailed the survey to officers and they were told the survey was voluntary and no personal identifying information would be given out. There was a consent form that needed to be signed before anyone could take the survey as well and respondents could stop taking the survey at any time. In-person interviews were conducted to obtain information that may not have been fully captured in the survey results with officers who had experience with body cameras before. Again, an email was sent out by the lieutenant to ask officers if they were willing to be interviewed. The response rate of the surveys was 21%, and according to Goetschel and Pena (2017), the average age of respondents was between 41-45, and had an average experience of 11-15 years on the job. Most of the respondents were in operations, followed by investigations and administration. Most did not have hands-on experience with body cameras, Goetschel and Pena (2017) concluded. Most of the city has low support for body cameras it was shown. As for the in-person interview results, officers said that they were concerned on how to implement discretion and not all citizens experience body cameras in the same way. The officers expressed concern for safety with the cameras with a component on their device, the wire, and thought it could hinder their ability to perform their duties if in the way. Officers also felt that there was more training needed with the body cameras because so many didn’t know how to properly use them. Legal barriers were another concern and officers felt it affected their ability to use the camera.

Limitations in this study included no randomized trials with pre and post-body cameras, and the low response rate of the survey even though there was a large sample size to start out with. The interpretation of the questions regarding experience with body cameras needed to be more concrete instead of having multiple reasons for the answers to the questions. If there were a set amount of what counted as experience the officers wouldn’t be as confused when answering the questions and the data would have been interpreted better without risk of being skewed or having errors. There was low agreement on benefits of the body camera on some areas as well. There needs to be more consensus as a whole in order to interpret the results with more accuracy with the dataset.

Barak implemented a study following the Denver Police Department and their use of body cameras within the department. Body cameras were given to all frontline officers in one district for six months but not to any other officers in the rest of the city. Access to data from the department was given to the researchers and were granted access to eighteen months of various data from the department. The treatment district was compared to five other districts in Denver and the use of body cameras was compared against the other districts. The researchers used the variables use of force, citizen complaints, arrests and citizen-initiated calls for service for 911. As for the data analysis, Barak used adjusted odds ratio to look at the difference between variables and descriptive statistics to summarize the data. The results show that use of force and arrest were reduced, but complaints against police were increased after implementing the body cameras. The possibility for a complaint for use of force when body cameras were not present became higher compared to when the cameras were present. 911 calls for service were increased in the treatment area but varied everywhere else. Officers felt that the cameras would lead to more lawsuits on their part and wished they could have more time to review their footage of the body camera and also to delete footage just like photos from a cell phone if they so wanted to without repercussion.

Barak (2016) suggests that police become more accountable for their actions when using the body cameras therefore the number of complaints go up not because there is an incident but rather more of a confidence of citizens that they can report something and have a better chance of having it taken seriously because they have actual footage to back it up instead of their word against the officers, Barak (2016) concluded. This had the same effect on other parts of the study as well, as arrests were down because the body cameras impact the officer’s discretion in dealing with people. A more randomized controlled trial is needed for future tests because the current study is just an experiment and needs to be clearer in its outcomes.

Brucato’s article took a different approach in which he discusses the use of body cameras and their history and use in policing. Starting out he describes how the public has been only introduced to how police use excessive force and the videotaping of police since the incident of Rodney King in the eighties. Before this incident, there has been no major media that has shown the country the actions of police, questionable or not. After the emergence of the Rodney King video, the United States has been exploding with technology that has allowed the public eye to get a first-hand look at the daily workings of police and police in turn having more lawsuits brought against them and accountability brought into question. Officer body cameras give viability to the public and the departments using them, and as Brucato (2015) states, the officer's point-of-view is the primary focus of the technology of the body cameras. Citing the US Supreme Court case of Graham v. Connor in 1989, “the reasonableness of a particular use of force case must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene”, Brucato (2015) concludes. Reasonableness means that in the current situation, the officer feels that he or she has the reasonable need for using force in that instance in respect to what he or she is experiencing on the scene.

There has been an increase of not only officers having their own body cameras to record citizen interactions but citizens themselves having cameras out to record the police. These interactions are seen by thousands moments after they happen by the user uploading it to the web, making the need for privacy and accountability in police encounters even more difficult. The officers who seek to have privacy with body cameras get scrutinized by the public because they feel that they are hiding evidence but the public who wishes to have privacy is given that opportunity. The legality of the system gives police the reasonableness also gives them perspective of handling the encounter they have with the body cameras. Discretion is therefore used in those moments as the act of reasonableness is a difficult definition to hold up in court, with the court itself not having the experience of the officers and only relying on the testimony of witnesses to give them the background information of the event in question, leading them to assess the situation based on what they feel a reasonable officer would think and do in that moment. It brings up the issue of the officers wanting to be above the law when wanting to have more flexibility in how they want to use their body cameras versus how the public wishes they would use them according to their standards on how police should conduct themselves.

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Pros and Cons of Having Body Camera: Critical Analysis of Articles. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from
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