Cynthia Lum, PhDProfessor of CriminologyLaw and SocietyGeorge Mason University

Have Police Body-Worn Cameras Lived Up To Their Expectations? Interview with:

Cynthia Lum, PhDProfessor of CriminologyLaw and SocietyGeorge Mason University

Dr. Lum

Cynthia Lum, PhD
Professor of Criminology
Law and Society
George Mason University What is the background for this study?

Response: Body-worn cameras (BWCs) are one of the most rapidly diffusing technologies in policing today, costing agencies and their municipalities millions of dollars. Recent estimates by the Bureau of Justice statistics indicate that over 60% of local police departments have already acquired BWCs. This adoption has been propelled by highly publicized officer-involved shootings and other death-in-custody events in this decade, as well as more generally by continuing concerns regarding police-citizen relationships, particularly within communities of color.

All of these contexts prompt the need to better understand the impacts and effects of BWCs as they diffuse rapidly into policing. Specifically, do BWCs achieve the expectations that citizens, communities, and the police have of them?

This article provides a narrative review of 70 studies, representing over 110 findings, about what we know from research across six important Body-worn cameras domains:

(1) the impact of BWCs on officer behavior;

(2) officer attitudes about BWCs;

(3) the impact of BWCs on citizen behavior;

(4) citizen and community attitudes about BWCs;

(5) the impact of BWCs on criminal investigations; and (6) the impact of BWCs on law enforcement organizations. What are the main findings?

Response: Findings indicate that the expected effects of Body-worn cameras may have been overstated, and that expectations and concerns surrounding body-worn cameras among police leaders and citizens have not yet been realized by and large in the ways anticipated by each. Have the cameras been shown to save lives or reduce injuries?

Response: We do not know with great certainty whether cameras can save lives or reduce injuries. Studies examining the impact of Body-worn cameras on officer use of force are equivocal; some studies indicate cameras might be able to reduce use of force while other studies show little effect of cameras on use of force. In terms of assaults on officers, findings from six studies indicate that that cameras make no difference in terms of whether or not officers are assaulted, while three studies find that assaults on officers wearing cameras could increase. What should readers take away from your report? 

Response: The initial adoption of BWCs occurred in the absence of extensive research on BWCs. Luckily, researchers have tried to keep up with this rapid adoption with evaluations and analyses of BWC effects and uses. In the meantime, agencies will almost certainly continue to adopt BWCs regardless of what the evidence says. More police agencies are likely to conclude, given the ubiquity of recording devices, that they need to have their own recording of events. There is also likely to be a growing expectation among the public that adopting BWCs is a marker of a responsive, transparent, and legitimate police organization. The continued adoption of cameras will undoubtedly put financial strain on the police, prosecutors, and the public.

If anything, these findings indicate that the anticipate effects from Body-worn cameras may have been overestimated. Further, an incongruence has been found between police expectation of cameras and the public’s expectation of cameras. More research is needed not only to examine questions about cameras that remain unanswered (see below), but also to help agencies optimize their use of cameras in ways that align their goals with citizen goals of camera use. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work? 

Response: Research evidence is still lacking on many important questions that need to be tackled through practitioner-researcher partnerships. For example, will BWCs affect legality and disparity in police actions? Will they change citizen’s willingness to report crime and cooperate in police investigations? Are there differential impacts of BWCs on different groups of people or officers? What are the long-term impacts of cameras for police organizations, the justice system, and the citizens that they serve? These and other questions need exploring to strengthen the evidence-base for body-worn cameras. We are currently conducting a Campbell Systematic Review on BWCs studies to parse out what aspects of studies and Body-worn cameras use may moderate specific research findings. 


Cynthia Lum et al, Research on body‐worn cameras, Criminology & Public Policy (2019). DOI: 10.1111/1745-9133.12412

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Mar 26, 2019 @ 12:21 am


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