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Looking at the Link Between Body Cameras and Crime

Closeup of police officer's uniform

As police increasingly use body-worn cameras, questions arise about the impact and effectiveness of the practice. James Wright, an SPA PhD candidate is focused on these questions as part of his research.

“Body cameras are a complicated issue,” said Wright. “Hopefully they can be used as a tool to make officers and citizens accountable.”

In his research, Wright focuses on how the roll of body cameras are related to crime, using data from crime reports in Washington D.C. from 2008 to 2016.  

The Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department was one of the first departments to give officers cameras, starting in 2014. The video recording systems are typically used by law enforcement officers to record their interactions with the public or gather video evidence at a crime scene. With increased transparency, the hope is that police officers will follow protocol. Wright said wearing the cameras influences police decision-making and how officers engage with the public.

The technology is popular among the public, with 88 percent of Americans supporting the use of police body-worn cameras, according to a 2015 poll. The practice has gained traction in the wake of high-profile confrontations with police and increased racial tension in recent years, explained Wright. The U.S. Department of Justice is responding to the demand by giving $23.3 million in grants to 32 states and 73 local agencies to expand the use of cameras and explore their impact.

Other studies have shown activating body-worn cameras decreases use of police force, decreases citizen complaints and officers report they are a good tool for training. 

Wright’s research focused on how camera usage influences outcomes – crime rates. The camera can address the problem of distrust that can occur between the public and policy because the taping can impact police behavior. 

“It provides accountability so officers have less discretion to act rogue agents,” said Wright, who hopes his findings will inform potential policy makers.

In the future, Wright would like to expand his study to include top 125 population cities and include qualitative work on citizen perception of the technology.