A 2017 study by the Vera Institute of Justice stated, “Police departments are beginning to view body-worn cameras, the majority of which are typically placed on the upper placket of an officer’s uniform with a forward-facing viewable area, as an essential ‘third-eye’ that can capture events and interactions between officers and the public, including traffic or street stops, arrests, searches, interrogations and critical incidents such as officer-involved shootings.”
“Body-worn cameras have emerged as an important tool for law enforcement … (that) needs to be integrated with key principles and core values in police/community relations, agency-wide training, policy development and enforcement, and efforts to enhance transparency,” said Terrence M. Cunningham, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Body cameras provide a contemporaneous and an objective record of a broader set of police-civilian encounters. A number of police departments and community leaders believe this device can be a key apparatus to:
Improve police interactions with people and communities;
Identify and correct problems when they occur, thus enhancing police performance;
Vindicate officers from false or unwarranted complaints;
Increase public trust in law enforcement, by demonstrating a willingness to open itself up to outside scrutiny;
Strengthe police accountability.
“Body-worn cameras have emerged as an important tool for law enforcement”
The study shows evidence that “cameras can prevent and deter unprofessional, illegal and inappropriate behaviors by both the police and the public due to the ‘surveillance effect’ that is thought to drive people to comply with accepted rules of conduct.”
The use of body cameras is likely to cause officers to think more carefully when considering actions that could become a liability to the department or that could become a personal liability. The Vera Institute study discovered that body cameras can contribute to an overall reduction in the number of use-of-force incidents.
At least 26 states and the District of Columbia passed laws or a resolution in 2015 and 2016 to explore, mandate and inform use of and access to footage from body-worn cameras in certain situations.
In 2015, California legislators passed Senate Bill 85 that requires the California Highway Patrol establish a pilot program to explore the use of body-worn cameras, including when the cameras should be activated, where on the body they should be attached, how best to notify the public that they are being recorded, and mechanisms for reviewing camera policies.
The number of statutes enacted in 2015 and 2016 represents a change in the course of policing reform with a proliferation of legislation in nearly two-thirds of states that affect law enforcement practice and policy, the study added.
The study shows how video footage captured by police body-worn cameras has provided crucial evidence in a number of high-profile encounters that resulted in civilian deaths.