The Benefits and Effectiveness of Police Body Cameras: Analytical Essay

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There has been an immense amount of controversy surrounding the notion of utilizing body cameras by police services across North America. The topic of body cameras and the discussion surrounding its use and effectiveness has risen in light of several incidents of excessive force by police officers, some of which have resulted in fatalities. This negative perception of the use of cameras is largely due to the fact that citizens consider it to be an invasion of privacy but also the substantial costs associated through equipping officers with the actual cameras themselves in addition, to implementing the necessary infrastructure required to support it. However, despite the attention that has been drawn against the use of cameras, the benefits of body cameras and their recorded footage outweigh the negative aspects. Cameras on officers allow for the actual series of events to be recorded from the start of the interaction to the end which can protect both the officer as well as the victim, it can act as a deterrence for crime and misbehavior and it can also be used as an educational tool for both police services, officers and the public.

The implementation of body cameras across all police services in North America can prove beneficial as one of its primary abilities is recording all police activity but more specifically police and citizen encounters. Whether it is for a traffic stop, domestic violence call, or something more serious such as a hostage situation, the full encounter from the second police make contact to when they first arrive on scene will be recorded in full. This evidence can prove to be very useful in cases of lawsuits against police officers where they are accused of inappropriate actions since it can eliminate any uncertainties. In a domestic violence call, officers usually arrive on scene after or during the incident that is occurring, which means that they often do not have sufficient details on the situation or the events that occurred. As such, it is imperative for police officers to collect as much evidence as possible when initially responding to a domestic violence call (Puchalaski, 2019). In situations like this, the body camera footage is simply just evidence that is admissible in court. There is no harm in equipping officers with body cams as it can simply be a passive form of collecting evidence as they actively deal with the situation. The encounters are recorded and stored, which means that officers do not need to spend time recording notes from the individuals involved and can work diligently in resolving the situation. The footage can also be extremely useful for citizen claims of police misconduct as it can be reviewed and any misconduct during an encounter will come to light. One of the main benefits of having body cam footage as evidence in court is in situations where there is inconclusive evidence supporting an accused officer’s defense. Jurors may then use the footage, along with all of the other evidence presented, to make a carefully considered evaluation based on the applicable law rather than in the court of public opinion where while the outcry may be valid justice cannot properly be done (Puchlaski, 2019). Thus, the city and police services will save a lot financially from lawsuits against them as body camera footage can provide evidence supporting their innocence. Additionally, in today’s society and the rise of smartphones with recording capabilities, incidents in public especially those involving physical actions by police officers are almost always captured. One drawback to viewing an incident from the perspective of a bystander is that they don’t always record an interaction between the officers and a citizen instantly. Police and citizen interactions occur on a daily basis and therefore seeing another stop is not alarming to a regular citizen. It is, however, the use of violence or an escalating situation that usually acts as the signal for them to begin recording the incident. Recording the incident from the middle of an encounter can paint a drastically different picture from the actual events that occurred as well as omitting the beginning of the encounter. This is where body camera footage on police officers proves to be useful as it will be able to record both the video and audio perspectives from beginning to end in situations where officers have resorted to violence. This will combat the biased perspectives of bystander footage and help counter any false narratives that develop because this footage is often spread across social media at a rapid rate which can negatively affect police legitimacy even in cases where they have committed no wrongdoing. On a smaller scale, complaints against officers can also be resolved more efficiently through the revision of footage. Another alternative purpose for police body cameras is their ability to act as a deterrence for crime and misbehavior. The act of being recorded especially by police officers often changes the way that citizens act as they are aware that their actions are being recorded. This can lead to calmer interactions between officers and citizens but also reduce crime in areas with police presence. Complaints filed against police officers are central to policing, not only because scholars consider them a proxy of police-public relations and police misconduct, but also because of their organizational importance is given the tremendous costs associated with these cases, particularly in an era of austerity where many agencies are on the verge of bankruptcy (Ariel, Farrar, & Sutherland, 2015). Fewer complaints mean less lawsuits filed against police services which results in less of the city’s financial funds being allocated in settlements. Police forces that are on the verge of bankruptcy usually suggest that budget cuts are necessary if they are unable to obtain additional funding. This can lead to reduced police presence and the availability of technology which can hinder the success and ability for officers to effectively patrol, control, and respond to crime in their region. This ties in with the fact that citizens are not the only ones being recorded as in an effort to increase accountability, and transparency, law enforcement agencies are adopting body-worn cameras at an extremely rapid pace (Voigt et al., 2017). Ideally, this means that the behavior of officers also changes for the better as they want to avoid any misconduct such as excessive force, unlawful stops, and racial profiling which can lead to complaints and if severe enough, threaten their careers. There have been several cases across North America of police officers being corrupted and committing unlawful actions that can be considered an abuse of power. They are expected to treat all citizens fairly however, incidents involving officers committing racially driven violence and the planting of evidence have surfaced. Blacks report more negative experiences in their interactions with the police than any other group (Voigt et al., 2017). Body camera footage has captured police misconduct on several occasions which revealed the innocence of citizens accused of crimes but also combated against corrupt officers abusing their power. The findings from a rapidly growing body of research show that body-worn cameras can produce a range of positive outcomes, including reductions in use of force and citizen complaints (Wallace et al., 2018). Both of these factors are beneficial to both citizens and police in terms of better treatment for citizens and a greater respect for law enforcement due to their ability to perform their duties in a non-forceful manner. In addition, accountability is enforced with the cameras which will help combat corruption. A study conducted on the Orlando police department revealed that Body-worn cameras are effective in reducing response-to-resistance incidents by 53.4% and serious external complaints by 65.4% (Jennings, Lynch, & Fridell, 2015). These statistics provide a positive direction for the implementation of body cameras and highlight some of their various benefits. The use of cameras by law enforcement agencies have already proven to be useful with the implementation of cameras on police cruisers. The cameras in police cruisers usually capture a general angle of an interaction but through the addition of cameras on officers, agencies will on benefit from the additional personal angle of interaction as well.

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Body cameras on police officers can serve as an important learning tool. Police departments are constantly trying to educate themselves and evolve which, allows them to be more effective in terms of assisting and their impact on the community. Especially after the series of high-profile shootings and incidents of excessive force such as those of Michael Brown and Eric Garner that have headlined the media, body cam footage allows for the perspective of the officer to be viewed. These videos have directed a sometimes-damning spotlight on incidents that might previously have been accepted as justified uses of force, giving urgency to demands for social change and reform within police departments (Morrison, 2017). This footage can place an emphasis on police accountability but also the utilization of these videos as a method of learning and evolving from previous mistakes which is extremely beneficial for the agencies, officers, and the public. Reviewing every incident from the officer’s actions to language and approach to the situation can be used as a positive or negative example, especially as a training tool for new recruits and existing officers. Additionally, footage obtained from body cameras can also serve as an educational tool for the public. In a situation of a traffic stop, for example, incidents that are recorded can teach the public on how to behave appropriately when interacting with officers. This can further help reduce situations that escalate to threatening statuses for officers which can result in shootings or excessive force. Due to the realistic nature of these videos, as they are from real situations as opposed to staged interactions that police services often release, they can gain a stronger reception from the public. Overall, the footage obtained from cameras can serve the purpose of educating both parties involved. Seamless interactions between citizens and police officers can result in an increase of police legitimacy and reduction in formal complaints as well as lawsuits. In the long run, being able to rid officers who commit police misconduct by holding them accountable of their actions will be more beneficial to all police services across North America.

Body cameras offer several benefits to police services, officers, and the citizens. From being able to protect officers from false accusations and claims which can result in notable financial savings, to protecting the accused and revealing cases of police misconduct, it will only strengthen the legitimacy of police agencies across North America. The financial savings from false accusations can further be reinvested back into agencies in order to improve their ability to serve and protect the community. The additional evidence it provides can also combat the often biased witness views on incidents that occur but also serve as a valuable educational tool for both existing and officers in training. Additionally, it can also further educate the public on how to deal or behave in situations where they are interacting with officers with the overall goal being a reduction in the use of excessive force and misconduct. In the long run, all parties benefit from implementing the use of body cameras on officers due to the valuable nature of the footage that can be recorded and the transparency it provides for the public. Overall, the positive impact of body cameras is a turning point in the evolution of policing as it holds the ability to drastically improve and regulate the actions of officers which can reduce the amount of high-profile incidents of police misconduct which damage the reputation of police agencies.


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  2. Ariel, B., Farrar, W.A. & Sutherland, A. J Quant Criminol (2015) 31: 509.
  3. Voigt, R., Camp, N. P., Prabhakaran, V., Hamilton, W. L., Hetey, R. C., Griffiths, C. M., … Eberhardt, J. L. (2017). Language from police body camera footage shows racial disparities in officer respect. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(25), 6521–6526. doi:
  4. WALLACE, D., WHITE, M.D., GAUB, J.E. and TODAK, N. (2018), BODY‐WORN CAMERAS AS A POTENTIAL SOURCE OF DEPOLICING: TESTING FOR CAMERA‐INDUCED PASSIVITY. Criminology, 56: 481-509. doi:10.1111/1745-9125.12179
  5. Jennings, W. G., Lynch, M. D., & Fridell, L. A. (2015). Evaluating the impact of police officer body-worn cameras (BWCs) on response-to-resistance and serious external complaints: Evidence from the Orlando police department (OPD) experience utilizing a randomized controlled experiment. Journal of Criminal Justice, 43(6), 480-486. doi:10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2015.10.003
  6. Morrison, C. M. (2017). Body camera obscura: the semiotics of police video. American Criminal Law Review, 54(3), 791+. Retrieved from https://link-gale- e927b9d1
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