Body Cameras

Did We Overestimate the Benefits of Police Body Cameras?

A review of 70 studies shows only limited benefits.


Rick Wilking/Reuters/Newscom

Those of us who think cops should be required to wear cameras may have to reconsider the scope of the benefits we hoped the technology would bring to policing.

A new paper by four George Mason University criminologists, published in Criminology and Public Policy, reviews 70 studies evaluating the cameras' impact on officer behavior, officer perceptions, citizen behavior, citizen perceptions, police investigations, and police organizations. Most of these studies find that both officers and citizens support the cameras. Unfortunately, they have not identified strong and consistent changes in either police or public behavior that can be traced to the body-cams.

Some early studies found that requiring cops to wear cameras deterred both frivolous citizen complaints and excessive police aggression. But whether body-cams make a big difference in policing practices and citizen satisfaction turns out to depend on how much individual police departments limit officer discretion on when to record, how easily available the videos are to individuals filing complaints, and how they address personal privacy concerns, among other issues.

The use of body cameras does seem to have resulted in fewer citizen complaints against officers. "The question remains," the authors write, "as to whether and to what degree these changes reflect citizens' reporting behaviors or improvements in officers' behavior or their interactions with citizens." Cameras "may curb some of the worst police behaviors," but they seem to show "little impact otherwise." Most body-cam footage used by prosecutors has been deployed not to prosecute police misconduct but to prosecute citizen misconduct.

The authors conclude that the cameras' "anticipated effects" have "perhaps…been overestimated." Nevertheless, "agencies will almost certainly continue to adopt [body-worn cameras]. Given the ubiquity of personal video and audio recording devices, more and more police agencies are likely to conclude that they need to have their own recording of events for police-citizen encounters that go bad. There is also likely to be a growing expectation among the public that adopting [the cameras] is a marker of a responsive, transparent and legitimate police organization."

For body-cams to really represent responsive and transparent policing, of course, agencies will have to refrain from stonewalling public requests for access to the recordings.

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57 responses to “Did We Overestimate the Benefits of Police Body Cameras?

  1. When there is zero repercussions to an officer even when the camera records bad behavior,Why change?

    1. Right. And this is something we’ve known all along. The benefits of putting cameras on police are only realized when the officers are forced to use the cameras, retain the footage and make it available to the public when relevant. Nobody overestimated anything.

    2. Actually, at least some departments have been punishing officers caught doing what they shouln’t on camera. Not all. Nowhere near enough, in fact. But it’s a start.

      In fact, it’s all a start. Body cameras are relatively new. It takes time for the courts to adjust to a new technology and its implications. Yes, some departments are denying access to body camera footage. That won’t last. It will work its way through the courts until there are rulings the stubbrn cops can’t ignore. Won’t release body cam footage? Then we know you’re lying.

  2. Speaking of police on video, check this out. The cops got a sentence of at least five years for this: news/passaic/paterson/2019/03/27

    1. You accidentally the link.

      1. Probably not accidentally. Reason‘s posting system puts a limit on the length of a “word”, which means longer URLs can’t just be included as part of the text of a post. Copy and paste the URL above and remove the space, and it works. People who know how can also use HTML tags to include links to longer URLs.

        1. Or just remove the s in https. It will auto shorten.

  3. The main thing that police body cams will reveal, if all records from them would or could be reviewed objectively and in detail by prosecutors intent upon prosecuting every law we have on the books in this country, is that most street cops overlook and ignore an incredible amount of potentially chargeable offenses by some members of the public.

    That is because we have a lot of people walking around three streets in our “civilization” that have never been socially housebroken. The cops know it. They know that prosecutors (especially in blue cities, counties, and states) aren’t going to do diddly squat about it.

    They know they are just there to give the appearance of law and order. Clues as to whether there are to be arrests of anyone this week and for what kind of thing will come down from the top now and then, but only around election time.

    It’s not just the Mueller investigation. Selective prosecutions are easy to do anywhere, at any level, for just about anything. We have oodles of vague and nit-picky laws and codes. It is easy to trap and trick people into breaking a law by simply confusing them. Threaten them. Overwhelm them. Lie to them. In America, cops can lie to you all day long about extremely serious “evidence” against you or a loved one!

    Don’t you lie to a cop or an FBI agent, however. No, no, no. Very bad result.

    1. A lot of those chargeable offenses are just there in case the police want to grab somebody for some reason. They don’t actually care about your tail light being out… unless they suspect you’ve got contraband in your car. They don’t care about jay walking… unless they have a hunch you need to be frisked.

      1. Right- the real travesty is that we break laws every day. We speed. We carry illegal items into some local city, or county or state.

        Yesterday someone posted a video by a lawyer titled “Don’t talk to the police” where he went into detail about all the trouble you get into when you talk to the police- one of the most important being that we break laws all the time but don’t realize it. At the end of the video a cop got up there and said “Everything he said is exactly right, I am here to catch you in a crime.” Later in his talk, the cop said “If I want to pull over a car, I just need to follow it around for a little while. That person will eventually do something that I can legally pull them over for.”

        1. Actually they don’t even need to do something technically illegal. The cop can just say you swerved in the lane a bit or didn’t come to a complete stop behind the line. Doesn’t have to be true at all.

  4. the streets, not three streets

  5. Is it that surprising that the cameras themselves are not as effective if their deployment does not coincide with policies that make the footage accessible to the local public and prosecutors being willing to prosecute the police based on camera evidence?

    Eric Gardner was choked out and it was all recorded by a 3rd party (not even a body cam) and they failed to prosecute the murderous criminal cop. Why would it matter if the police camera had caught the incident instead of a citizen camera?

    We already know the cameras themselves are not a panacea – its just one small step in reforming the entire policing structure – which currently is filled with criminals posing as paragons of justice.

  6. When I look at a police uniform and all its accessories (gun, cuffs, taser, club, spray, etc) I know it’s all for use against me. Why would a camera be any different?

    1. Lol says a gay that’s probably never even been in a fight. Libertarianism founders on the shoals of being a dopey ideology for nerds with power fantasies.

      1. What a great example of an ad-hominem attack. That’s what you were trying to do, right? Or do you really think that was a refutation of what he said?

        1. Pointing out that someone lives in a bubble that isn’t anywhere close to where cops are needed, yet living in that bubble and never having done something so stupid as to require a cop to use any of those tools on him that gay magically knows the cops are out to get him.

          Reason sucks. Libertarians suck. Because they’re bigots out of touch with reality and see cops as the bad guys when they are provably the good guys.

          1. Gee, I wonder why people would have distrust for someone who enforces unjust and immoral laws.

            1. So, your argument is you want cops to determine what laws, written and passed by the politicians you elected, they are and are not going to enforce? You’re an excellent example of just how stupid libertarians are.

              1. So, your argument is you want cops to determine what laws, written and passed by the politicians you elected, they are and are not going to enforce?


                Because not all laws are just, and to enforce an unjust law is literally an injustice.

                Not enforcing unjust laws would be easier if legislatures would stop passing them, but police choose their professions, presumably with both eyes open, and know what they’re getting in for.

                And be honest, do you really want police treating every petty act of vandalism, every broken taillight, every unbuckled seatbelt, every case of jaywalking, the same? If so, you’re a uniquely masochistic individual.

  7. the show Body Cam is fun

  8. ” citizen satisfaction turns out to depend on how much individual police departments limit officer discretion on when to record,

    I think I see the problem here. they should have no discretion.

    1. The problem is that they have all the discretion.

  9. Most body-cam footage used by prosecutors has been deployed not to prosecute police misconduct but to prosecute citizen misconduct.

    Huh? What’s wrong w prosecuting whosever misconduct?

    1. Why would you become a cop if you could be prosecuted for abusing your power?

      1. Same reason I’d take any other job, $.

  10. Cameras “may curb some of the worst police behaviors,”

    It would seem to me that that is the most important thing. I don’t care much if it improves ‘customer service’, I want to know that the cops are doing dropsy and when someone handcuffed in the back of a cruiser manages to shoot herself in the mouth – there are questions that need to be answered as to how the hell something like that happens and what can we do to prevent it.

    Most body-cam footage used by prosecutors has been deployed not to prosecute police misconduct but to prosecute citizen misconduct.

    That’s not necessarily a bad thing. If the cops are behaving then it would seem to reason that of course you’re going to be using it to prosecute other’s misconduct more. Of course it could just mean prosecutors are ignoring recorded police conduct – but that’s a separate issue from recording someone else committing a crime.

    1. This. Knocking down the most egregious 5% of abuses is still a worthwhile achievement.

  11. Who is this “we” of which you speak?

  12. Did We Overestimate the Benefits of Police Body Cameras?

    Black Lives Matter sure did.

    1. No kidding. Although libertarians supported it, and for good reasons, BLM was at the forefront of demanding that cops should wear body cameras to record “police brutality.”

      They changed their tune fast when they found out it was leading to easier convictions of hoodrats wilding out, and started up on the “invasion of privacy” angle after that.

      1. This isn’t anew thing. Remember it was black leaders who pushed the hardest for tough laws against crack and gangs. After those laws started working they then changed their tune to enforcement was proof of police racism.

  13. Did We Overestimate the Benefits of Police Body Cameras?

    If you thought it was a cure-all or panacea, then yes, you did.

    If you thought it was one more tool that, if allowed to be used properly, would help (not fix everything, not be a miracle cure, but just help), then nah.

    The problem is unrealistic expectations and police departments sabotaging the roll-out.

  14. Cameras on, don’t shoot?

  15. Cameras don’t work if they aren’t on or you can’t watch the video?

    They aren’t magic totems.

  16. Daniel Shaver was unable to be reached for comment on the efficacy of body camera footage in prosecuting cops.

  17. Of course, we now have awesome footage of Chris Watt’s having to deal with police after he murdered his pregnant wife and two young daughters. If you want see the look of terror on a murderer’s face when he realizes that someone videoed him loading the the family members both dead and alive into his truck or the moment he realizes that he left the wife’s purse on the counter by mistake creating a huge piece of evidence, police cameras make that possible. You can also see the moment a neighbor realizes that he murdered his family. It’s all priceless and on youtube thanks to the miracle of body cams.

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  19. ” Most body-cam footage used by prosecutors has been deployed not to prosecute police misconduct but to prosecute citizen misconduct.”

    Here’s a stat that will surprise absolutely nobody.

  20. Citizens don’t have the right to use body cameras.

    How can that be? Recording our memories should be our right. Doing so will protect us not only from every criminal that relies on anonymity and denial, but our recordings could be laced together to find abducted children and track criminals in hiding.

    Only criminals want to deny us our personal right to record all our memories.

  21. Just to play devil’s advocate but I love how no one has brought up the possibility that the reason that body cams haven’t achieved what you want is that your original hypothesis was flawed. Maybe police brutality and misconduct are the exception rather than the rule?

    1. We won’t know until every citizen has the right to record their memories of their interactions with police.

      1. This is rather a stupid attempt at snark. It isn’t even remotely amusing.

        1. It’s a valid point that we don’t know what we don’t know and that all but the stupidest criminals won’t make recordings of their crimes.

          That’s why everyone else needs to.

          1. No it’s not a valid point. In fact it is the opposite. There would be no benefit for criminals to make a video of their crime. In fact the idea is so preposterous that I can only conclude you are either trolling or really are that sophomoric. We, the people insisted police wear body cams. Now we are unhappy with the results because it has revealed far less police misconduct turn we thought it would. Some are saying it’s because cops and prosecutors are corrupt. This may be the case, but it may also be the case that police misconduct is not nearly as prevalent as we suspected. In fact both could and probably are the case. That some prosecutors and cops are dirty and that police misconduct is not endemic as some believe it is. Neither is exclusive of the other. The fact that some can’t even entertain this concept shows it isn’t about ascertaining the truth but being true to their ideology. You non-sequitor, Phillip Dick-esqua attempt at making a point is just a peurile attempt to sound sophisticated.

            1. *then we thought it would…

            2. Can you comprehend that more recordings, by citizens who are interested in the truth, will provide the data that is required to know for sure?

              1. First you stated that every citizen has the right, which is already the case. The courts have ruled the cops can’t stop you from recording them. Also, it would not serve criminals, as the recording of the crime will be used as evidence against them. And as to your point about cops turning off their cameras, it depends on the policy of their department. I do apologize though, I misread your first statement. I missed the portion about their interaction with the cops. I thought you had said all their memories, thus my Phillip K Dick reference. However, I don’t think most cops are jack booted thugs. Yes some are but I’ve worked with many and most are fairly nice guys. They aren’t bullies getting off on their perceived power. Yes, maybe more recordings may turn up more police brutality, however, after a certain point you have to start to conclude that the lack of evidence is a good indicator that the original hypothesis is incorrect.

                1. The first things cops do is take away your recording devices along with everything in your pockets. If it was our right, they could not.

                  We shouldn’t leave our defence in the hands of anyone. Recording ALL our memories ONLY threatens liars and crooks.

                  Once we all have the right to record all our memories everywhere we go and store them securely off site in the cloud, we will begin collecting ENOUGH evidence to make a great many conclusions based on fact and reality.

            3. Do you realize that individual police turn cameras off when they want?

    2. Considering how many instances of “the body can was not turned on” and “the body can malfunctioned” we hear about, I don’t know if you can really draw that conclusion

    3. Maybe police brutality and misconduct are the exception rather than the rule?

      Maybe. But until the “good” cops stop defending the “bad” ones, we’ll never know.

  22. Police bodycams are still an improvement over not having them. But they are no substitute for laws holding police accountable for their actions and giving their victims (and families) the right to prosecute.

  23. Cameras “may curb some of the worst police behaviors,” but they seem to show “little impact otherwise.” Most body-cam footage used by prosecutors has been deployed not to prosecute police misconduct but to prosecute citizen misconduct.

    The authors conclude that the cameras’ “anticipated effects” have “perhaps…been overestimated.”

    So body cams didn’t confirm your anti-cop bigotry, while clearly showing the real problem is criminals, so you draw the conclusion the value of bodycams are “overestimated”? Fuck you, you piece of shit. I do want to thank you, though, for making clear you’re not interested in understanding anything, but are only interested in confirming your bullshit ideology.

  24. One possible explanation is that the cops have mostly been behaving, so there is less behavior to correct.

    Still, if you are going to have cameras, you can’t let the cops turn them on and off.

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