A new study by the Cambridge Institute of Criminology reports that wearing body-worn cameras causes a 93% reduction in complaints by members of the public.
Any news of a reduction in complaints made against the police should be cause to celebrate. However while the study itself certainly had an impact on the behaviour of police officers, we and the researchers remain sceptical as to how effective body-worn cameras are in un-monitored police situations.
Several reasons have been given in the study for the dramatic fall in reports. Dr. Barak Ariel, the lead researcher on the report commented how “individual officers become more accountable, and modify their behaviour accordingly.” The public, aware they are being recorded, also adjust their behaviour and so relations between the two improve. Yet is this accountability really reflected in every day interactions with the police and was it really the result of body-worn cameras?
All police in the study were aware that their behaviour was being monitored. Any improvements in police behaviour can just as easily be explained by this. Is surveillance by academic study rather than camera the reason for the huge reduction in complaints?
In addition, officers were required to keep their cameras on at all time, whereas the everyday guidance for police officers wearing them currently gives them discretion for when they are turned on and off. If this study shows that police behaviour is only effective when they are being monitored by camera, giving them the controls seems a poor choice.
When considering the large amount of data gathered and the privacy and security implications, it is clear that caution is necessary before heralding body-worn cameras as the solution to public-police relations.
We have previously blogged about body-warn cameras here.