Body-worn cameras are fast becoming standard kit for frontline law enforcers, trumpeted by senior officers and even the US President as a technological ‘fix’ for what some see as a crisis of police legitimacy.
Researchers say this may be down to wearable cameras modifying behaviour through an ‘observer effect’: the awareness that encounters are recorded improves both suspect demeanour and police procedural compliance. Essentially, the “digital witness” of the camera encourages cooler heads to prevail.
The experiment took place across seven sites during 2014 and early 2015, including police from areas such as the UK Midlands and the Californian coast, and encompassing 1,429,868 officer hours across 4,264 shifts in jurisdictions that cover a total population of two million citizens. The findings are published today in the journal Criminal Justice and Behaviour.
The researchers write that, if levels of complaints offer at least some guide to standards of police conduct – and misconduct – these findings suggest that use of body-worn cameras are a “profound sea change in modern policing”.