Study is among the first nationally to show the effectiveness of police using body cameras
TAMPA, Fla. (Oct. 12, 2015) – A year-long study conducted by researchers from the University of South Florida and the Orlando, Fla. Police Department has found that body-worn cameras (BWCs) are an effective tool to reduce response-to-resistance incidents and serious external complaints, as well as improve overall police work.
The study, the first of its kind nationally, ran from March 2014 to Feb. 2015. During that time, 46 officers used BWCs and 43 other officers did not. It included not only an examination of official police records, but also employed officer surveys and face-to-face interviews between those officers and USF criminologists regarding attitudes toward the body-worn cameras and the on-the-street experiences of those wearing them. By the end of the study, most officers wearing the BWCs felt that they should be adopted agency-wide.
“In the beginning, officers were relatively skeptical that wearing a body-worn camera would impact their response-to-resistance, incidents where police officers use force on those resisting arrest, or impact external complaints or internal complaints against them,” said Dr. Wesley G. Jennings, principal investigator for the study and associate professor and associate chair in USF’s Department of Criminology. “However, after the study many officers wearing the BWCs felt that it impacted their behavior in the field and also felt that the BWCs impacted citizen behavior, helping to de-escalate confrontations between citizens and police. They also said that the BWCs improved their evidence collection, recollection of events and helped minimize errors in their reports. Most felt that the BWCs made them better officers.”
The national discussion about BWCs and their possible implementation by police agencies has increased dramatically over the past few years in the wake of incidents between citizens and police nationwide, but a systematic study of the potential benefits or drawbacks of officers wearing body-worn cameras needed to be carried out, said Jennings.
According to the USF researchers, when data from the year before the study and data collected during the study were compared, the number of BWC officers involved in response-to-resistance incidents declined significantly. In addition the study revealed that the department experienced fewer serious external complaints about the officers wearing body-worn cameras.
The study showed that there was a 53 percent reduction in response-to-resistance/use-of force incidents and a 65 percent reduction in external complaints among the officers wearing body-worn cameras.
“The BWC officers overwhelmingly reported that the BWCs would not reduce their willingness to respond to calls, nor would it reduce their self-initiated subject contacts when a crime had been committed,” explained Jennings.
According to Jennings, interest in police officers using body-worn cameras has spiked over the last few years as complaints about policing behaviors have gained national attention.
“Historically, most police behavior has been ‘off the radar,’ with no video of most events,” explained Jennings. “Now there is a groundswell of support for police body-worn camera use and the technology is being acquired and implemented as a tool to both protect officers and citizens.”
The study also found cameras helped to improve evidence collection and report writing, as officers have the opportunity to review the videos.
The body-worn cameras used in the Orlando study, said Jennings, were Taser Axon Flex cameras that cost about $600 each. Additional costs would be in software for data storage and equipment maintenance, bringing the price for their use up to about $1000 per camera. However, President Barack Obama has proposed to set aside $75 million to aid police departments in purchasing body-worn cameras, said Jennings.
In a recent statement, Orlando Police chief John Mina said that he believed that the use of body-worn cameras will strengthen community trust. “BWCs will also improve accountability and transparency, protect our officers from false complaints, and provide valuable evidence for prosecutors,” he said.
In late September, the Orlando Police Department was awarded $497,480 by the U.S. Department of Justice for a “Body-Worn Camera Implementation Program” that will run from Oct. 1, 2015- Sept. 30, 2017. “We anticipate buying 450 body cameras,” said Chief Mina.
The University of South Florida is a high-impact, global research university dedicated to student success. USF is a Top 50 research university among both public and private institutions nationwide in total research expenditures, according to the National Science Foundation. Serving nearly 48,000 students, the USF System has an annual budget of $1.5 billion and an annual economic impact of $4.4 billion. USF is a member of the American Athletic Conference.