How Body Cameras ‘Civilize’ Police-Civilian Encounters

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Photo by North Charleston via Flickr

According to a study released June 21 by the Urban Institute, body cameras have a “civilizing effect” on police encounters even when a civilian is unaware that an officer is wearing a camera– suggesting that the cameras may be changing the way officers behave.

Prior research has shown that body cameras are connected to “decreases in officer use of force, complaints against officers, and resistance during arrests,” according to the Urban Institute.

Currently, policies governing the use of body cameras vary considerably from one police department to the next, as do the rates of camera activation. Where cameras are mandated, more officers turn them on during an encounter; where they are discretionary, the activation rate is much lower. In departments that closely followed guidelines about when and when not to record, police use of force decreased; when guidelines are not followed strictly, or officers are given more discretion, use of force increased.

Whereas previous studies indicated that body cameras didn’t affect arrest rates,  the Urban Institute found a slight decrease when cameras were activated.

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