Police Wearing Body Worn Cameras

Published: 2021/10/05
Number of words: 2999

Police wearing Body Worn Cameras (BWC’s) can in turn prove to the public that the officers can be held accountable for their actions

Police-related shootings and use of force have increased over the years in the united states of America with cases being reported in states such as; Charlotte, Ferguson, Baltimore, and Chicago. These issues have raised several concerns over the deteriorating interaction between the community and the police department. Advancements made in technology have enabled law enforcement units to adopt the body-worn cameras (BWCs), which has enabled the transparency of officer’s conduct and operations in the field, hence improving their credibility. The inclusion of BWCs in officer’s uniform has also eased the numerous police shooting crisis that has shattered the image of law enforcement in the public eye. Various benefits have been linked with the inclusion of BWCs on police officers of the law such as; better behavior and actions of officers deployed in the field and the public during encounters or confrontations, increased opportunities for efficient training for the deployed police officers, promotion of transparency, safeguarding of the evidence collected to prevent false complaints filed by offenders and prosecutors, and increase in the legitimacy of the police. During his presidential term, Obama’s government allocated the Department of Justice of the United State of America seventy-five million dollars to cater to the installation of BWCs and fund the expert’s support required. However, like any other big project initiatives, the rapid implementation of the BWCs program attracted some problems and controversies, which were fueled by the lack of adequate knowledge in the police department as well as the community. This paper aims to analyze the concept of the BWCs in proving the accountability of the officer’s actions at work to the public, the capability and limitations of the BWCs.

A problem statements

The BWCs are minute pieces of equipments attached to the officer uniforms that are used to record or capture the activities and interactions between the members of the law enforcement and society. The recordings whether video or audio can be useful in documenting behaviors, observations, statements, and evidence. As earlier discussed, the BWCs have improved the interaction between law enforcement and the general public. The BWCs has increased the accountability of the police officer’s actions, by making their duties and operation transparent and open. The camera is more efficient than dashboard cameras mounted on police vehicles or CCTV systems which only records activities in a specific place. The BWCs performs better as it offers both visual and audio recordings at a close distance for clarity and surety. The Axon Body 2 is a single-unit officer body-worn camera that features advanced security measures and limitless HD video and dual audio provincial, that transmit quality visual and clear voice recordings. Besides, the Axon Body 2 camera has a wireless activation provincial and Bluetooth and WI-FI connections, that enables a faster stream of recorded activities to the assigned metadata. The camera’s audio recording can also be muted to accommodate the privacy of one or both parties, maintains a charged battery up to 2 hours, and has unmatched durability (Axon Body 2, 2020).

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The Bureau of Justice released the statistical findings from a survey carried out in 2013 that indicated that almost 18000 police units in America had acquired and were using the BWCs technology (Braga et al., 2018). However, this new profound technology, the body-worn cameras, has many disadvantages and limitations. With more police departments adopting this new technological initiative, it is quite evident that the expected outcomes and consequences are not adequately understood. For the program to be successful, a lot of preparedness has to be contemplated, especially when it comes to the reformation of reforms, expanded staffing, proper training, the setting of technological experts, and effective coordination between the office of the judiciary, attorney, prosecutors, and the police department. Even though many types of researches have explored the implications of the BWCs on complaints and perception of citizens, and the utilization of excessive force during encounters, more studies need to be conducted to fully apprehend the influence of this new technology on the policy and the justice system. Further, the camera has instilled a solid moral standard in police offers, ensuring they adhere to the code of ethics and provide faithful and honest service to all.

Literature review

Use of force by the police

Police use of force in previous years attracted many controversial opinions and views from the public and in political arenas. The recent death of George Floyd in the United States of America has raised the growing concern of the brutality and use of unnecessary force during encounters or confrontations. Police compromisation in the line of duty has also attracted the attention of various disciplines which has dwelled into the topic to offer in-depth analysis of police behavior in exercising their power. A democratic nation justifies the excessive application of force in dangerous or chaotic situations, but only when it is necessary to accomplish an authorized or legal goal (Dymond & Hickman, 2018). Police scholars argue that the police and the public are bound by a contract, which stipulates that the police officers are to guard and protect the citizens and are free to use the proportional force necessary to maintain social order and peace. This means that citizens expect the police force to apply reasonable force in carrying out their sworn duties. The law enforcement and all its officers are thus supposed to maintain a high moral and legal responsibility, to ensure they serve the people accordingly, to sustain a good relationship with the citizens.
Most researches of use of force by the police insist on two specific situations that have raised concern which include; excessive police force on the citizen and the use of unnecessary force (Dymond & Hickman, 2018). The use of too much force is seen in the event a police officer applies unjustifiable or unreasonable force in a particular situation, which calls for some force. On the other hand, the use of unnecessary force is where the police officer uses force in a situation that does not require any force, justifiable, or necessary. Research contends that these two scenarios can destroy the existing relationship between the community and the police officers who pledge to serve and protect the citizens of a nation. So, when the police break the contract and apply the use of unnecessary force with its citizen, tension is created and violent riots erupt, for instance, in the case of George Floyd. The use of BWCs, which is fashioned to record the activities of the public and the police, serves to reduce the confrontation between the law enforcement and society, because it encourages ethical conduct in the police force unit, and increases the transparency of police operations, thus minimizing the use of excessive force in the field or while on duty.

Influence on police activities

Some recent studies have shown the effect of the BWCs on the activities of the police officers such as their problem solving, their proactiveness, and discretions when making arrests in their course of duty. The survey indicates that the officers of the law usually see this BWCs technology as aiding the apprehension and punishment of the lawbreakers as it helps improve evidence quality, through creating a permanent record of what transpired during the arrest of an offender (Braga, 2018). However, the police officers in various agencies have expressed their concerns over how the footage of the camera may be used by their superiors to look at their performance. The officers indeed have the fear of being reprimanded as a result of not making an arrest, when the footage in the camera shows that a law has been broken by a citizen in the general public. Two studies have gone further to show that police officers on duty, tend to increase their enforcement of the law when wearing the BWCs. This shows that the BWCs when worn by the police officers, increases their productivity as measured by the arrests made by the officers. Furthermore, incidents that were attended by the BWCs officers resulted in more criminal prosecutions than the incidents which had normal police officers involved.

Influence on civilian’s actions

The introduction of BWCs has been linked to the reduction of illegal actions and activities committed by the lawbreakers in the public. Studies indicate that the decrease of undesirable habits and behaviors is because of the fear of being recorded on audio or video doing something illegal or unfitting (Braga, 2018). Moreover, with constant surveillance of the public by the police, the BWCs have stimulated desirable traits in people, for example, showing respect to other people. One of the theoretical perspectives, the deterrence theory, posit that offenders may avoid committing crimes if it attracts severe punishment and little benefits. Most of the literature reviews argue that BWCs have a deterrent effect, in that, the cameras influence acceptable behavior during police encounters with the general public (Lee, 2017). This means that the offenders will be deterred from participating in unlawful activities because of the fear of strong convictions backed by visual and audio evidence, from the BWCs. Therefore, the knowledge of the camera worn by the officers recording the activities and behaviors in any encounter creates a deterrent impression, by raising their conceptualization of the probability of being arrested.
The other literary evaluated theory is the self-awareness theory which proposes that people usually concentrate on themselves, assess, and compare their current prevailing behavior to their internal values and moral standards. This particular theory further posits that when individuals are placed under constant observation or surveillance, they tend to alter their actions and behavior, cooperate with the prescribed social rules, and display socially acceptable actions. Research has proven that human beings usually adjust their behavior to fit in with their inner moral standards when they think that negative consequences will befall them if they fall short of those set standards (Ariel et al., 2018). According to sociological research on human behavior, numerous environmental situations and aspects stimulate self-awareness such as; the masses, mirrors, or even being observed or recorded. Moreover, research of great scope of scholarly writings indicates that individuals most definitely change their behaviors when they become aware of someone watching, studying, or observing them (Ariel et al., 2018). Therefore, the inclusion of officer BWCs is linked to the stimulation of self-awareness, which makes people aware that their actions, activities, behaviors, and movements are being watched and recorded. As such, both the citizens and the police officers alike, become self-conscious and thus modify their behaviors to those socially allowed and acceptable. These researches have provided enough evidence to prove that the use of BWCs has greatly influenced the overall behavior of the public and reduced considerably, the various cases of criminal activities and illegal operations.

One of the key methods of evaluating police officer’s misconduct and how the general population of people views the police work and its administration is by analyzing the complaints filed by the public. Even though statistics show that the number of filed cases against the police is less than the occurrences of police encounters, the few cases help to recognize the deviant police officer in the departments. These complaints in most cases are used to assess the interactions between the police force and the community, and to pass judgments and punishments on rogue police officers. Unfortunately, research has also revealed that punishment in most cases is not the end goal and many officers go unreprimanded, which causes the public to lose trust in the effectiveness of the police administration (Braga et al., 2018). Apart from this, there is undisputed evidence that suggests that a quarter of the complaints filed against police officers are bogus or false, which has placed the police unit in a predicament and deterred their performance. To counter these problematic issues, various findings of the impacts of BWCs indicate that the technology has contributed highly to the decrease of complaints filed by the public against the police departments. The recordings of encounters have reduced the number of false complaints lodged by the public by providing definitive evidence in the courthouses. This initiative has thus improved the image of the police and the relationship between the community and the police.

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Limitations of BWCs

One of the limitations of the BWCs is that it can cause privacy concerns in the general public. Although the advocates for civil rights in America have supported the BWCs, the effect on the privacy of citizens is not well understood. Some federal and state laws on privacy have placed some restrictions on the BWCs on using video and audio recording. Furthermore, it can be seen that the BWCs capture the traumatic experience in real-time of the citizens who fall victim to the crimes committed (Lin, 2016). The BWCs also capture the disturbing moments of the citizens involved in accidents and medical emergencies and those being arrested. Moreover, the body-worn cameras have also created concern on the privacy of the police officer. Recently police unions in various cities in the United States of America have gone ahead to claim that the BWCs cameras have altered the working conditions of the officers and during the contract signing, this factor must be considered. Moreover, everything the officer records whether intentionally or unintentionally can be discovered and as such, this technology needs to be carefully understood. This will ensure that the privacy of the citizens and the police officers are respected.
The BWCs are limited in scope, in that, the cameras can only record the activities that are in the direction of the mounted device. This means that the camera can miss major illegal activities or disturbances happening around if the police officer does not notice. Additionally, the officer-worn body camera is incapable of discerning the feelings or emotions of police officers such as fear, pain. Sorrow, or anger, and so its efficiency in reducing the rash actions of some officers is limited. Therefore, a lot of research is required on the BWCs cameras and their impact on various outcomes. The outcomes that need to be researched include the effect of the BWCs on the quality of the police officers’ interactions with the citizens. This will include their communication when handling arrests, professionalism when dealing with key issues, and the use of brutal excessive force by officers of the law (Sousa et al., 2016). Another issue that needs more research is the impact of the BWCs on the general public and whether they feel satisfied with police encounters and criminal investigations. It has however been established that there is a knowledge gap on both ends on body-worn cameras and therefore training must be improved and policies changed. There is also a need for additional information on how the BWCs can help aid in the investigations of shootings involving the police officers or other critical incidents. Moreover, the true extent of the value of the BWCs will highly depend on continued research studies that will keep up with their growing implementation in America (Sousa et al., 2016).

In conclusion, from the above arguments, it is evident that the new technological invention in the law enforcement unit, that is, police body-worn cameras, has improved law enforcement operations and performances. The BWCs camera has displayed a variety of benefits according to the literature review of scholarly writings which includes; the reduction in the use of force by the police in the field, improved police activities and ethical performance of duties, decreased cases of illegal activities among the public, and a relative reduction of the public complaints filed against the misconduct of police during encounters. It is clear from the above discussion that the BWCs have in turn proved to the public that the officers of the law can be held accountable for their actions by promoting transparency of police activities and actions in the line of duty. According to the various research reviewed in this paper, the BWCs have reduced police force on the citizens, and in the process, it has helped to sustain the good interaction the citizens and the officers deployed to serve and protect them. Furthermore, the presence of body-worn cameras during encounters has influence ethical behavior in the citizen as well as the public. However, we have also seen that the new technology also has limitations such as; it requires expansive expenditure in terms of staffing, training, and installment of the technological system, it infringes on the privacy rights of both the police officers and the public, it is limited to the recordings of the officer’s directional point, and it can not register the feelings and emotions of the police officer. Overall, it is right to conclude that the BWCs have improved the operations of law enforcement and have largely contributed to the formation of the positive image of the police by the people.

References

Ariel, B., Sutherland, A., Henstock, D., Young, J., Drover, P., Sykes, J., … & Henderson, R.(2018). Paradoxical effects of self-awareness of being observed: Testing the effect of police body-worn cameras on assaults and aggression against officers. Journal of experimental criminology, 14(1), 19-47.

Braga, A. A., Sousa, W. H., Coldren, J. R., & Rodriguez, D. (2018). The effects of body-worn cameras on police activity and police-citizen encounters. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1973-), 108(3), 511-538.

Dymond, A., & Hickman, M. (2018). Body-worn cameras, use of force and police-civilian interactions.

Global.axon.com. 2020. Axon Body 2. [online] Available at:
<https://global.axon.com/products/body-2> [Accessed 2 August 2020].

Lee, H. W. (2017). Taking deterrence seriously: The wide-scope deterrence theory of punishment. Criminal justice ethics, 36(1), 2-24.

Lin, R. (2016). Police body-worn cameras and privacy: Retaining benefits while reducing public concerns. Duke L. & Tech. Rev., 14, 346.

Sousa, W. H., Coldren Jr, J. R., Rodriguez, D., & Braga, A. A. (2016). Research on body-worn cameras: Meeting the challenges of police operations, program implementation, and randomized controlled trial designs. Police Quarterly, 19(3), 363-384.

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