What D.C. Police Discovered About Body-Worn Cameras

NPR reported Friday on results, released by the Washington, D.C. research team Lab@DC, of the most significant law enforcement body-worn camera (BWC) study in America. It has concluded some surprising results — surprising to all but the cops and their supporters.

The study found no statistically significant differences on any measured outcomes, including use of force, between officers wearing and not wearing body-worn cameras. From the study: “More plainly, we interpret this to mean that BWCs had no detectable effect on the outcome in question.”

“But for most officers I know, they knew the most significant factors body-worn cameras would affect would be in exonerating police officers accused of misconduct.”

Half of Washington D.C.’s 2,224 officers were randomly chosen to wear the cameras, and the remaining half wore none for the study. Then researchers studied and culled through and arrived at the results of the interactions officers had with suspects.

When considering the significance of the study’s results, Michael White, an Arizona State University researcher who has studied BWCs in Spokane, Washington, and Tempe, Arizona, said, “This is a very methodologically rigorous study. It is very well-done. And that’s not a small issue, because there have been many studies of body-worn cameras that are not rigorous.”

What’s most interesting, but sadly not surprising, comes more from some expectations of the study than from the study itself. Reports indicate that the consensus (cop critics) apparently expected the cameras would “change law enforcement officer behavior.”

Cops have other reasons to be skeptical of body-worn cameras. But for most officers I know, they knew the most significant factors body-worn cameras would affect would be in exonerating police officers accused of misconduct.

I assume cop critics assumed BWCs would change cop behavior from "bad" to "good." They expected the cops had been doing their jobs improperly and that body-worn cameras would magically correct this flaw. It seems there was no room for the possibility that most cops are responsible professionals who care about their communities and don't need to be "changing their behavior."

Perhaps Metropolitan Police Department Chief Peter Newsham said it best when he suggested what many believe to be blasphemy in leftist precincts: that his officers "were doing the right thing in the first place."

Steve Pomper is an OpsLens contributor and retired Seattle police officer. He has served as a field training officer on the East Precinct Community Police Team, and as a precinct mountain bike coordinator. He has a B.A. in English language and literature. He enjoys riding his Harley and hiking and biking with his wife, who is also an English major and a retired firefighter.

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Last Modified: October 26, 2017, 3:37 pm

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