A study performed with the cooperation Washington DC’s Metropolitan Police Department has determined that body cameras have no markable impact on use of force incidents or citizen complaints.
With findings raising concerns as to whether the expensive item of technology is worth the cost in the wake of new politics and high-profile shootings, the study -which ran from June 2015 to December 2016- seems to suggest that nothing really changes for citizen or public servant.
“We found essentially that we could not detect any statistically significant effect of the body-worn cameras,” Metropolitan Police Department Anita Ravishankar told NPR.
Chief of Police Peter Newsham was equally insightful into the findings, claiming that proper training, standards of behavior and the fact that his officers “were doing the right thing in the first place” is what makes the difference, not the body camera.
“I think we’re surprised by the result. I think a lot of people were suggesting that the body-worn cameras would change behavior,” said Newsham. “There was no indication that the cameras changed behavior at all.”
As for the study? Arizona State University researcher Michael White -who did a similar study for departments in Arizona and Washington state- praised both the research diligence and Metro PD.
“This is a very methodologically rigorous study. It is very well done. And that’s not a small issue, because there have been many studies of body-worn cameras that are not rigorous,” he said.
This is, in part, allegedly due to the very high standards DC officers are held to.
“They’re hiring the right people; they’ve got good training; they’ve got good supervision; they’ve got good accountability mechanisms in place,” White says. “When you have a department in that kind of state, I don’t think you’re going to see large reductions in use of force and complaints, because you don’t need to. There is no large number of excessive uses of force that need to be eliminated.”
According to NPR, the study now begs the inevitable question of whether or not body cameras are worth the cost- especially to cash-strapped departments in the heartland.
“I think a big part of the answer to that question is going to come from what the police department and the community want to accomplish with the rollout of body-worn cameras,” he said.
For Chief Newsham, the camera serves a useful purpose either way- offering both evidence and a chest-high view of what officers go through every day.
“I think it’s really important for legitimacy for the police department,” says Newsham, “when we say something to be able to back it up with a real-world view that others can see.”