States, Police Departments Wary of Body Cams

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Photo by North Charleston via Flickr

When a Maine state senator tried to require police officers to wear body cameras, the legislature balked and formed a committee to study it. Police chiefs and local officials opposed the bill, citing the cost and questioning the necessity of having every officer wear one. The American Civil Liberties Union said the idea was premature.

Maine’s cautious approach reflects a growing awareness, backed by studies, that body cameras don’t necessarily have a huge effect on police officers’ behavior or how residents view the police, reports Stateline.

Daniel Lawrence of the Urban Institute said more police departments are realizing that purchasing cameras isn’t enough. Their effectiveness depends on when officers are required to turn them on, whether they must review video before writing incident reports, and whether videos are released to people involved in an incident or to the public.

A camera alone, he said, “isn’t going to drastically change how police operate.”

The push for cameras began after several high-profile police shootings, including the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. In 2015 the Obama administration handed out $23 million to help agencies purchase them. By 2016, nearly half of U.S. law enforcement agencies had cameras.

Besides Maine, lawmakers in Illinois, Mississippi and North Carolina last year considered requiring cameras for police, the most proposals in one year since 2015. Studies question whether the devices are doing what they’ve been touted to do.

George Mason University’s Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy, looking at 70 body-worn camera studies, found cameras have not had statistically significant effects on most measures of officer and citizen behavior or citizens’ views of police. Another article, in the South Dakota Law Review, said that although some studies have shown reductions in use of force and citizen complaints, it is unclear whether the results are worth the cost.

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