Police body-worn cameras have no impact on the use of force or citizens’ complaints, says a new study released by D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser’s office.
The study was conducted by the mayor’s office and The Lab @ DC, consisting of a team of scientists. Between June 2015 and March 2017, D.C. police randomly assigned over 2,200 individual officers to wear body cameras or not. The number of documented uses of force, civilian complaints, disorderly conduct by officers was then compared between the two groups.
In every outcome measured, the body-worn cameras showed no detectable effect on the use of force, civilian complaints, or disorderly conduct between those who wore the cameras and those who did not. There also wasn’t a significant effect on prosecutions in courts between the arresting officers who wore the cameras and those who didn’t.
D.C. police equipped every officer with body-worn cameras in December 2016 after a pilot program began in 2014 to outfit more officers with cameras.
The Lab @ DC offered several possibilities for the results of the study. These included that study outcomes reflect increased awareness between colleagues of who is wearing a camera and who isn’t, the unique nature of policing in the nation’s capital, as well as misuse of the cameras by officers.
Last September, when Maryland resident Terrence Sterling was fatally shot by police in NW DC, the officer who shot Sterling failed to turn his body-worn camera on until after the shooting. The video was later released, showing graphic attempts of resuscitating Sterling. The shooting led to questions about the proper use of body-worn cameras and if they could provide answers about such deadly encounters.
The study cautions that police departments adopting body-worn cameras should adjust their expectations. In a statement released by Mayor Bowser’s office, the mayor’s office and police department express confidence that the body-worn cameras can still provide opportunities to train officers.
“Not only does it offer greater transparency, it has allowed us to evaluate split-second decisions officers are making to improve our training,” said D.C. police chief Peter Newsham.
The study is available to view here.