4.10. Police Accountability: Body Cameras

Tiffany Morey

While the best data available is outdated, a 2018 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 47% of local law enforcement agencies had obtained body cameras – including 80% of large departments – with the primary motivations to “improve officer safety, increase evidence quality, reduce civilian complaints, and reduce agency liability” <footnote>Hyland, S., Body-Worn Cameras in Law Enforcement Agencies, 2016, Bureau of Justice Statistics, November 2018.</footnote>

Body cameras would seem to be the panacea for all police misconduct, yet, the truth of the matter is not so concrete. First, body cameras only show one point of view. Until small drones can hover above the officer showing a 360-degree view, the accurate recollection of an event can never be indeed known. Second, no matter how “fool-proof” a departmental policy may be, there will always be a user that can turn off the camera in certain situations. Moreover, the cost of storing thousands of hours of body camera footage is often prohibitively high for smaller departments, rendering video of older encounters unavailable. To date, over 70 studies have researched the impact of bodyworn cameras on the above outcomes (officer safety, civilian complaints, and use-of-force) with widely mixed reviews. Body cameras are one but answer in a giant puzzle to stop police misconduct – and preserve officer safety.

Police Body Cameras: What Do You See Exercise


“People are expecting more of body cameras than the technology will deliver,” Professor Stoughton said. “They expect it to be a broad solution for the problem of police-community relations, when in fact it’s just a tool, and like any tool, there’s limited value to what it can do.”

After reading the above article and watching the included video, has your view of policing and the role of video changed? Do you think body cameras are worth the expense or could we do without? What are the pros and cons?


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4.10. Police Accountability: Body Cameras Copyright © 2019 by Tiffany Morey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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