Police Body Cameras <insert your answers here>
It’s been called the Friday news dump.
That is the practice of releasing news on a Friday in hopes that the story doesn’t get the attention it deserved because of the impending weekend distractions. I’m not sure if it was a coincidence, but a Friday is the day we got to hear one of the most positive police stories in recent memory. And one thing is for certain—we haven’t heard a lot more about the Washington, D.C. study since it was released.
So, just why didn’t we get to hear a ton of commentary about the results from the biggest study on police body worn cameras, or BWCs, since their inception? Why is it we aren’t hearing news network debates, late night talk show comments, or panels of expert opinions on this study? Probably because it’s not sexy, it’s anticlimactic, and certainly goes against much of what the news loves to cover so often.
BWCs began being used in many police departments across the country, and almost every other agency in the nation committing to future use, after a string of high profile police incidents. They were going to hold police accountable and reduce the incidents where police used force. The largest study just released was conducted using 2,224 officers in the Washington, D.C. police department, which found BWCs have no detectable, meaningful effect on documented uses of force incidents or civilian complaints.
Previously, the main study cited for the use of body cameras (and the one used on the website of Axon, who has sold over 300,000 of them) was a 2013 experiment using only 54 officers from Rialto, California. Another study by the NYPD is expected out this spring.
Take a moment and think back over the last couple of years and recall the times you’ve come across released footage of a body camera. The vast majority of instances have corroborated what officers and police executives already knew, before $40 million dollars of taxpayer money was spent—in a supermajority of cases, officers are reasonable and appropriate in their instances of use of force.
Perhaps the police were doing the right thing in the first place? Let that possibility sink in for a few moments—the men and women in blue deserve it.
When this all began, naturally most of the officers were against the idea of body cameras. Everyone assumed it was because they were heavy-handed and doing things they shouldn’t be. Very few stopped to imagine how it would feel if a body camera were attached to YOU everyday at work. Adding insult to injury was that these men and women who were going out everyday putting their lives on the line for complete strangers were not only being chastised, but also having their accounts of what had occurred being doubted.
Even now, critics site recent reform of the Washington, D.C. police as the reason why the study didn’t reveal the conclusions they so desperately wanted. They continue to site bumper sticker platitudes, make everything partisan, and point to the one or two major examples nationwide every year where an officer’s actions were criminal.
There was however some good that came out of police body cameras. Body cam footage exonerated a ton of police officers in questionable cases and justified their actions. This footage was used in court to obtain convictions and also to train officers.
The big question is after spending all this money, did implementing body cameras increase the public’s trust or help improve the perception of the job police are doing? Or did the Friday news dump and lack of coverage mean you didn’t even hear about it?
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Steve Warneke is a writer, speaker, consultant and police expert. You can find his book and more from Steve at www.SteveWarneke.com.