D.C. Police Body Cams Had Little Impact, Study Finds

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Washington, D.C., police officers wearing body cameras reported using force about as often as colleagues who didn’t have them, and citizen complaints against the two groups were about even, says a new study that bucks early expectations about the devices’ impact, the Washington Post reports. When the cameras started to appear in police departments in 2014, experts predicted behavior on both sides of the badge would improve. The study by D.C.’s in-house research branch suggests otherwise. Police Chief Peter Newsham said the results surprised department leaders and were “not what we anticipated.” He said it appears in many police interactions, “cameras didn’t make a difference.”

The chief said the recordings have been valuable, providing a precise record of tense and difficult encounters, including police shootings. The District says the study of its $5.1 million program is among the more comprehensive looks at whether police-worn cameras affect behavior by officers and the people they encounter. The research looked at a period when the police force was rolling out its camera program, and some officers had the cameras while others were still waiting. Researchers found slightly more officers with cameras reported using force than those without. More people filed complaints against officers wearing cameras than without. Researchers said the differences were statistically insignificant, making the influence of the cameras a wash. Police agencies “should not expect dramatic reductions in the use-of-force complaints, or other large-scale shifts in police behavior solely from the deployment of this technology,” concluded David Yokum, who directs The Lab @DC, which conducted the study with outside universities. “So if you are a police department thinking that this technology on its own is going to be something to cause big shifts on those two dynamics, this would be a cause to recalibrate your expectations.”

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