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Research Shows That Body Cams Aren't Making Bad Cops Better

By Ceylan Pumphrey, Esq. on June 03, 2019

Over the last few years, it seems that police misconduct has increased, particularly when it comes to the use of force against undeserving citizens. It could be that the problem has always existed, but with more technology, it has simply been documented and disseminated to the public more often and more completely. Whether it has increased or stayed the same as previous years, any misconduct by the police is concerning.

Police misconduct can occur when police use excessive force or act in a way that is not in line with the U.S. Constitution, such as conducting illegal searches. Body cameras were thought to help prevent or at least lessen the instances of police misconduct. Although videos from body and dashboard cameras can be used as evidence in specific cases, the research seems to indicate that body cams aren't making bad cops act any better.

The Research

In 2015, George Mason University's Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy started a comprehensive review of body camera use by the police. The study's main findings note that body cameras "have not had statistically significant or consistent effects on most measures of officer and citizen behavior or citizens' views of police." Interestingly, there was a consistent finding that body cameras are linked to less citizen complaints.

The research also revealed that police officers and citizens view the benefits of body cameras much differently. Citizens see body cams as a way of protecting them from police misbehavior, including excessive force or rudeness. Police officers, on the other hand, see the cameras as a way to protect them from frivolous complaints.

Basically, the study shows that aren't any easy answers to show that the use of body cameras has made widespread changes in police practices and procedures. According to Cynthia Lum, a former police officer in Baltimore and director of the Center, the heart of the issue is the relationship between the police and people. In her view, strengthening that relationship will take more than just new or more technology.

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