12 July 2021

Spotlight on the evidence: Body-worn Cameras (BWCs)

Our new intervention about body-worn cameras (BWCs) assesses their impact on police and public behaviour when used in a law enforcement context.

Body worn cameras (BWCs) are small, visible devices which can be attached to the uniform of police officers to capture audio and video footage of interactions between the police and members of the public. Our newest addition to the Crime Reduction Toolkit  (CRT) suggests that while Body-worn cameras (BWCs) may not have a clear or consistent effect on reducing crime (measured by assaults/resistance against officers wearing cameras), or on officers use of force, they can reduce the number of complaints made against officers.

Over the last decade there has been a notable increase in the use of BWCs by police officers in the UK. BWCs can assist with evidence capture and can enhance officer recall of specific events. Their use is also thought to have an impact on officer and public behaviour by increasing awareness that the interaction is being recorded which may have a moderating effect on all parties, although this was not specifically tested in the research reviews.

The BWC information in the toolkit is based on a review of thirty studies and 12 different types of outcome measures of public and police officer behaviour, such as arrests, officer use of force, officer-initiated calls for service, dispatched calls for service, traffic stops/tickets, stop and search and response times. Most of the research was from the USA.

Only two of the outcomes tested were found to be statistically significant. Firstly, officers wearing BWCs have significantly fewer complaints lodged against them than officers who are not wearing BWCs, although the reasons why complaints are lower is unclear. Secondly, there was some, albeit limited evidence that officers wearing BWCs were significantly more likely to write more citations (similar to penalty notices or warnings) for minor non-traffic summary offences. Analysis also suggests that restricting officer discretion in turning on and off BWCs may reduce police use of force, but more assessment is needed.

The existing research evidence doesn't evaluate whether police accountability or their relationships with the public are improved by use of BWCs, and the consensus is that more information about the effects of BWCs is needed. As use of BWCs is widespread in policing and other sectors, greater emphasis should be placed on testing the possible outcomes of using them and assessing their cost effectiveness. New research should include testing different approaches to using BWCs, including application of officer discretion for when to use them and the variety of ways that they are deployed such as for coaching, training, evidence gathering and increasing accountability.

The Covid-19 pandemic has prompted forces to consider new ways of using BWC. You can read about how Merseyside Police used BWCs for recording voluntary attendance interviews in safer environments in Issue 1 of Going equipped.

 


 

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