The Effect of Police Body-Worn Cameras

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

Researchers studied the effect of police body-worn cameras on use of force and citizens’ complaints against the police and the results were stark:

We found that the likelihood of force being used in control conditions [no camera] were roughly twice those in experimental conditions [with a body-worn camera]. Similarly, a pre/post analysis of use-of-force and complaints data also support this result: the number of complaints filed against officers dropped from 0.7 complaints per 1,000 contacts to 0.07 per 1,000 contacts.

An order-of-magnitude drop in complaints sounds good.

Commenter Nicholas Marsh shared two explanations for the drop in complaints:

The first is that the camera wearing police are deterred from abusing their authority. The second is that members of the public are less likely to make false complaints.

If the public believe the former and police the latter there might be wide support for cameras.


  1. Boonton says:

    Only problem for someone who thinks false complaints are all or most of the story: If it was just that the camera deterred false complaints, then the overall use of force would not have changed so much.

  2. Toddy Cat says:

    I don’t think that anybody thinks that false complaints are all of the story, but you will note that complaints dropped a lot more than did the use of force, which would indicate that false complaints are a more significant problem than abuse of force. No matter, as long as they do not make police less likely to enforce the law (a topic not dealt with here), cameras would seem to be an unalloyed good, for all concerned.

  3. Boonton says:

    On both sides perception is likely to be biased. An objective record like a camera does not always provide a solution to all disputed cases but it does put a cap on how far each sides’ narratives can stray from the truth.

    Behavior can also change on both sides. A person might be less inclined to be aggressive towards police knowing the camera will capture him as the person starting the conflict, for example. That may result in both fewer complaints against cops and less use of force by cops even if the officer in question isn’t actually behaving better.

    I think so far a good case has been made that both sides should agree on deploying cameras as much as possible and seeing what we learn from the results. I suspect reducing abuse and decreasing false complaints will only be the tip of the iceberg here. A lot might be learned by studying the hours of real life interactions by both average and cops that are exceptionally good and bad.

  4. Space Nookie says:

    Personally, I’m skeptical that the general public would even be aware of the cameras.

  5. Steve says:

    I am also sure that the public will not notice the cameras. That still doesn’t mean that the police department shouldn’t have a great body camera policy. I would like to see the District Attorney be in charge of storing the video evidence.

Leave a Reply