Posts Tagged ‘Body cameras’

Police Body-Mounted Cameras: Cost and Benefit Analysis

One of this decade’s most discussed and anticipated developments, police body-mounted cameras, have been gaining more support as of late, and are subsequently becoming more widely implemented as a result of several cataclysmic events themed on police deviance and misconduct; excessive use of force, police shootings, etc. Such events as the Ferguson shooting has contributed to this up-rise and near obsession with being able to watch the watchers. Obama is in full support of this modifications to law enforcement attire and has even made a pricey contribution, yet, there are still some in power who are reluctant to follow his decision despite contemporary research evidence in support of it. These new body-mounted cameras have generated controversial discussion already with public-police relationships and further impact on both the perception and acts of police deviance.

The demand for police body-mounted cameras is a demand to install a light into a long-darkened room; to satisfy the needs of the public and criminal justice system for a definitive record when it comes to police deviance and misconduct; as objective and ominous evidence. The death of Michael Brown by Ferguson police fueled the fire for protests against police misconduct and inspired subsequent demand for video documentation of police activities. Michael Brown, who was 18 years old, was shot multiple times in the head and chest by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, despite what witnesses account for as Brown holding his hands up in surrender (Cavaliere, 2014). A campaign further supporting this was launched by Michael Brown’s parents a few months ago after another cataclysmic event, a viral video of the shooting of Cleveland 12-year old Tamir Rice, created to “ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera” (Brandom, par 2, 2014).

Announced in early December of last year, federal funding was increased when the White House pledged $263 million, $75 million of which was to be specifically used in the purchase of 50,000 new cameras (which is a lot for only covering only a fraction of employed officers in America). The additional funding will be divided up between police-community trust-oriented outreach programs, and police training that enforces instruction pertaining to the use of paramilitary equipment (Brandom, 2014). This is an addition to the six-month pilot program that the Washington D.C police began on October 1st of last year, a program that is still going on and cost $1 million initially for cameras.

There are those who are in support of this new policy, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, and then there are those who oppose them, saying that these cameras have the potential to be an invasion of privacy and may hinder the public from approaching police with information (Cavaliere, 2014). Whether in support of opposition, there have been several departments who have implemented this policy, Ferguson being one of them. When Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson discussed the addition of body-mounted cameras to his team, he mentioned that the receiving officers were without reluctance in that they “are really enjoying them,” and that “they are trying to get used to using them” (Cavaliere, par 8, 2014). Of course, not everyone is in support of this legislation. In fact, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is adamantly opposed to the use of body cameras for his police officers. Walsh is quoted in an interview stating, “No. I don’t think it’s needed in Boston today. It’s a tool that people are talking about. There’s an experiment going on in Worcester right now…with body cameras. That’s something that we’ll see what shows with that experiment” (Enwemeka, par 7, 2014). Walsh further comments that he does not believe that the cameras will assist in mending the fundamental issues between the communities and the police (Enwemeka, 2014). Marty Walsh’s statements implied that he is reluctant for body cameras at this time, but that this future decision may rely on the success of the cameras in neighboring departments.  And that is essentially what these attire additions are right now; they’re experiments, trial runs. If the benefits outweigh the costs, body cameras have the potential to become mandatory.

There have been legitimate experiments conducted measuring the effectiveness of body cameras and officers as well, such as a yearlong study completed by Chief Tony Farrar of Rialto California Police Department’s patrol officers. “We randomly assigned a year’s worth of shifts into experimental and control shifts within a large randomized controlled field experiment…we investigated the extent to which cameras effect human behavior and, specifically, reduce the use of police force” (The Police Foundation, p. 2, 2013). The results of this 12 month study showed the patrol shifts not using cameras came into twice as many use of force incidents than the shifts with officers wearing the cameras. As for public complaints against officers, in the 12 month period during the study there were only three complaints filed, as opposed to the 28 complaints filed in the 12 months proceeding the study (The Police Foundation, 2013). “The findings suggest more than a 50% reduction in the total number of incidents of use of force compared to control conditions, and nearly ten times more citizens’ complaints in the 12 months prior to the experiment (The Police Foundation, p. 9, 2013). This study illustrated a significant effect on both use of force and public complaints against officers. This may be a foreshadow of the kind of results to come from wider implementation. There is some skepticism raised around the issues of privacy, as Cheryl Distaso asserts regarding the potential body camera addition to the Fort Collins Police Department. Distaso, with the Fort Collins Community Acton Network, addresses public concern stating “police officers might be able to turn them off when their behavior is questionable…[and] police officers enter people’s homes. They enter their personal space. And there is no way to opt out (CBS, par 8-11, 2013). Distaso also added, among issues of invasion of privacy, that it’s a general concern that the policy pertaining to the cameras was designed without the public’s input. This raises red flags for some citizens. Goldsmith (2010) argues that there are negative impacts upon the department and law enforcement deploying these cameras as well, as it produces a new visibility into their conduct. “Their uncontrolled visibility diminishes their power, making the surveillance of others less possible at times and exposing them to disciplinary and legal liability. Visibility of less flattering or illegal practices challenges their operation sovereignty based in anonymity and observation (Goldsmith, p. 915, 2010). He goes on to say that their have been negative consequences for police organizations due to the new communicative technologies and their social networking, and that, although these new technologies may increase the public’s perception of police accountability, it proportionally decreases their account ability (Goldsmith, 2010).

Despite the issues around skepticism about officer body camera use, there are bigger and more serous issues around police use of force and community and police trust and accountability. More serious issues that, according to Chief Tony Farrar’s study, these sorts of recording devices seem to heavily impact. As more research is conducted on more departments experimenting with this tool, we’ll have more information that will assist in whichever direction we decide to go with body mounted cameras. If there are certain areas and communities that have a real problem with use of force and with community-law enforcement relationships, based on what evidence has been concluded so far, the benefits would outweigh the costs when pertaining to whether or not police should wear body mounted cameras.


Brandom, R. (2014). The Verge. Obama announces funding for police body cameras. Retrieved at announces- funding-for-police-body-cameras

Cavaliere, V. (2014). Reuters. After unrest over shooting, Ferguson police now wear body cameras. Retrieved at shooting- idUSKBN0GW13M20140901

CBS Denver. (2013). Fort Collins PD Starts Using Body-Mounted Cameras. Critics say they are an invasion of privacy. Retrieved at collins- pd-starts-using-body-mounted-cameras/

Enwemeka, Z. (2014). Mayor Marty Walsh: Boston doesn’t need police body cameras. Retrieved at body- cameras

Goldsmith, A. (2010). Advance Access. Policing’s new visibility. Vol. 50, 914-934.


The Police Foundation. (2013). Self-awareness to Being Watched and Socially-desireable Behavior: a field experiment on the effect of body-worn cameras on police use-of-force. Retrieved at The¨¨ %20Effect%20of%20Body-Worn%20Cameras%20on%20Police%20Use- of- Force.pdf

In the aftermath of the Mike Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, The President of the United States, Barack Obama, promoted the use of body-worn cameras on police officers (CBC, 2014). He called for a national reform of police accountability, and promised the citizens of the United States that body worn cameras would help mend the precarious relationship between police departments and communities. However, Obama’s grandiose promises have led the public to believe that body cameras are a “win-win” situation. The common belief is that they could hold police accountable for their actions and also protect cops who are falsely accused of wrongdoing. This blog post challenges the assumption that police-worn body cameras increase police accountability and protect officers.

Body worn cameras record interactions between law-enforcement officials and civilians. Some battery-operated cameras can be attached to an officer’s vest or helmet; others, which look like thick pens, can be connected to the arms of specially designed glasses. The recorded footage goes to a secure online server or a cloud-storage system that can only be viewed by verified administrators. The original footage cannot be deleted without approval from an administrator, and individual police departments can set their own policies regarding the management of the footage, including how long the footage is stored.

Developing official procedures to govern the use of cameras will be a tedious task. Officers should be required to have their cameras running during encounters with civilians, but will they be allowed to turn them off while they’re in their squad cars or engaging with informants who don’t want their identities revealed? Will civilians expectations of privacy be put in jeopardy by these cameras?

Another concern about these cameras is battery life. Some cameras only have a battery life of two hours, and it is possible that the cameras may not always be usable when police officers need them most. If an officer is tasked with turning the camera on and off throughout his/her shift, it may not always be feasible in emergency situations (which is typically when video footage of the incident would be most beneficial in investigations).

Furthermore, the majority of support for police-worn cameras has come from politicians and executives of companies that have a vested economic interest in this market. Time magazine published a long commentary regarding it’s support for the use of body-worn cameras, however most of the information of the article was cited back to the CEO of VIEVU, one of the largest wearable body-worn camera makers in the world (Gillespie, 2014).

Once all of the information regarding support for body-worn cameras has been sifted through, two prominent themes emerge:

1. To date, there’s a relatively small amount of empirical evidence to demonstrate that body-worn cameras improve police-civilian interactions. The first randomized controlled trial using body-worn-cameras was conducted in 2013 in Rialto, California,  across a 12 month time frame. The study focused specifically on use-of-force and citizens’ complaints, which were hypothesized to be affected by officers wearing cameras, given the possible deterrent effect of the devices on noncompliant behaviour (Ariel, Farra & Sutherland, 2014, p2). The research found a 50 percent reduction in the number of use-of-force incidents among officers wearing the cameras. Civilian complaints against police officers also dropped sharply, however the Rialto police department already generates minimal complaints in a typical year, so it’s difficult to draw conclusions. This study has been used as “evidence” for advocates of body cameras to the point of exhaustion. However, this is but one experiment and before this policy is considered more widely, police forces, governments and researchers should invest further time and effort in validating these findings with other research.

Below is a link to the full study:

Click to access art%253A10.1007%252Fs10940-014-9236-3.pdf

2. At this point, body-worn cameras are merely a part of politics. The vocal proponents of body cameras are mainly politicians, police chiefs and executives of body-camera companies. These groups require public approval and support to function, and because police accountability is a “hot topic” currently, advocating for body cameras on officers is simply being used as a public approval tactic. There is no consensus amongst researchers, the public nor police officers in regards to the approval or disapproval of such cameras because no sound evidence has been made available.  The only individuals and institutions adamantly pushing for these cameras are individuals who are attempting to capitalize on the emotional topic of police accountability.

Before billions of dollars are globally invested by governments and law enforcement agencies, an impartial research study must be performed, one that is not funded by any parties that have an economic interest in the results. Although the outcry for the use of body cameras has been extensively perpetuated by high profile police shootings, the public and state must come to a decision that is well-informed, and proves to be a decision for the greater good of the public and police agencies. A full impact assessment on the use of body-worn cameras must be conducted before adopting the use of them into police agencies.

Due to the two themes outline above, I cannot support the implementation of body-worn cameras on police officers. It would be irresponsible for myself, as a member of the academic community, to form an opinion without valid and reliable research to consider. For now, the state and law enforcement agencies should not economically invest in purchasing and implementing expensive programs without a more definitive and clear idea about the effectiveness of such cameras.


Ariel, B,. Farrar, W. A,. and Sutherland, A. (2014). The effect of police body-worn cameras on use of force and citizens’ complaints against the police: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Quantitative Criminology.
DOI 10.1007/s10940-014-9236-3

Gillespie, N. (2014). Make cops wear cameras. Time Magazine.

Obama calls for police body cameras after Ferguson shooting. Dec 1, 2014. The Associated Press.