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Saturday, September 9 • 4:05pm - 4:38pm
Police Perceptions of Body-Worn Cameras

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There has been growing interest in the emerging technology of police body-worn cameras (BWCs). Some proponents see it as a tool for police to identify and collect evidence against criminals, and some proponents see it as a tool to hold police accountable, while detractors are concerned about the high cost of BWCs or the risk of undermining the privacy of police officers, the general public, or both. Much of this is conjecture, and more research is needed to determine the actual impact of BWCs.

In this paper, we investigate how police officers view BWCs, including the potential benefits and harms from wide-scale adoption of BWC technology. While different groups may have different opinions about BWCs, the views of police are important for two reasons. First, those police officers who have used BWCs have important first-hand knowledge about what does and does not work. Some have even concrete ideas of how to improve the technology or the policies regarding its use. Second, police are important stakeholders in decisions about whether to adopt BWCs, and what usage policies to employ. Police unions have strenuously objected to their deployment in major cities like Boston, New Orleans, and New York City. Resistance from police may reduce the potential benefits of deploying BWCs, or even prevent deployment in the first place.  

We ascertained police views using surveys and interviews. First, we conducted a written survey of police officers in Pittsburgh, where BWCs had been used for several years, but not throughout the department. 179 officers filled out surveys, some of whom had experience with BWCs and some of whom did not. Then, we supplemented surveys with interviews of Pittsburgh police officers so that some officers could respond to more open-ended questions.  

We found that overall, officers strongly believe in the ability of BWCs to reduce citizen complaints and maintain police-community relations, but support for deploying BWCs throughout the city is low (31%). However, that support dramatically increases among officers with hands-on BWC experience (57%). Officers who oppose city-wide adoption were far more likely to believe that BWCs would erode trust between officers and their superiors. We also found that officer age did not significantly affect their perceptions toward BWCs.

Our interviews revealed officer concerns that BWCs can inhibit discretion when interacting with citizens, and that the wire that attaches the battery to the camera presents a safety hazard in certain situations. Officers also strongly supported the idea to use positive footage of citizen interactions to improve general police training and increase skill diffusion among newer recruits.

In addition, we conducted the first study that incorporates survey data on police perceptions of BWCs from the Midwest, and compared them with previous studies to determine whether national trends are emerging. We found that support for expanding the technology throughout their departments has increased substantially over time, especially among officers who gain hands-on experience with the cameras. However, there are still high levels of disagreement on whether BWCs are easy to use, decrease levels of paperwork, or increase officer safety.

These and other results suggest that changes in BWC technology, police policy and procedure, and police training may lead to better police BWC programs.


Jim McConnaughey

George Mason University

avatar for Max Goetschel

Max Goetschel

Analyst, Carnegie Mellon University

avatar for Jon Peha

Jon Peha

Professor, Carnegie Mellon University

Saturday September 9, 2017 4:05pm - 4:38pm EDT
ASLS Hazel - Room 120

Attendees (6)