The benefits of police body cams are a myth

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
December 20, 2017

In the three years since Michael Brown’s fatal shooting in Ferguson, police body-worn cameras have been sold to the public as a tool that would primarily deter police misconduct. One of the main selling points is the claim that the devices would have a “civilizing effect” on officers.

Officers would behave better, the argument goes, if they knew their actions were being recorded. Camera vendors have tolddepartments that their devices would reduce excessive uses of force and complaints against officers.

But as it turns out, in one of America’s largest police departments, body-worn cameras did not produce any of these benefits.

A landmark study recently released by the D.C. Metropolitan Police found that officers who wore cameras behaved in essentially the same ways as officers who did not. The presence of cameras had no statistically significant impact on how often officers used force or on how many misconduct complaints the city received.

The results raise an important question: If these benefits have not emerged, could the other claimed benefits of body-worn cameras — increased transparency, accountability and trust — also be false promises?

So far, there’s little evidence to suggest that department-owned, officer-operated cameras will lead to any meaningful improvements. To the contrary, a tool that’s viewed by some as one that can protect black lives is actually one that mainly helps those in blue.

Read the full piece at TechCrunch.