Are Body-Worn Cameras Effective?

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Body-worn cameras are increasingly being used by U.S. law enforcement agencies and often play a central role in high-profile police killings. But wide disparities remain in how they are employed and when the footage is made public, reports Reuters.

As of 2016, about 47 percent of the country’s 15,328 general-purpose law enforcement agencies had bought the cameras, according to a 2018 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the most recent study measuring nationwide usage. Seven states — Colorado, Connecticut, New Mexico, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and South Carolina — have mandated statewide body-worn camera adoption, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

At least 12 states, including Massachusetts and West Virginia, did not have laws regulating public access to body-worn camera recordings as of October 2018, leaving it up to agencies to decide how to release the footage, according to the Urban Institute think tank.

More than half of the United States had no rule dictating where, when and how body-worn cameras had to be used as of October 2018, the Urban Institute said. Almost two-thirds of state prosecutors’ offices use body-worn camera video as evidence, according to a 2016 survey by George Mason University’s Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy. The study found that 8.3 percent of offices in jurisdictions with body-worn cameras had used the footage to prosecute police officers, while 92.6 percent had used it to prosecute private citizens.

Officers who wear body cameras consistently appear to have fewer complaints filed against them than officers without cameras, according to a 2020 report by the National Police Foundation that synthesized 10 years of research on the subject. Civil rights advocates say the timely release of body-worn camera footage, balanced with privacy considerations, is key to holding law enforcement officers accountable.

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