Research Paper Example on Police Use of Body Worn Cameras

Published: 2021-07-19 01:04:51
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George Washington University
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Research paper
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The topic the researcher chose is the police use of body worn cameras (BWC), and how their use has impacted the numbers of police use of force incidents and citizen complaints. The researcher was also interested in the how the individual officers and citizens feel about the cameras, and the privacy concerns their use may bring. What would also be interesting is to examine cases where BWC footage has either proven or disproven allegations of police misconduct. According to the LA Times, the Los Angeles Police Department is poised to become the largest users of BWC in the United States with a plan to purchase 7,000 units, following Mayor Eric Garcettis pledge to provide nearly all officers with a BWC by the end of the year (Mather & Zahniser, 2016). According to the authors, the plan is estimated to cost $57.6 million over five years. Additionally, California lawmakers are proposing Assembly Bill 748, to establish a state policy on the release of BWC footage and limit the ability of departments to withhold footage (Dillon, 2017).

To examine the broader question of how BWC have impacted the numbers of use of force incidents and citizen complaints, the researcher can perform a meta-analysis of the available studies conducted in BWC pilot programs, as well as conducting a qualitative interview with the police officers. Studies have been published in BWC programs from Phoenix, Orlando, and the United Kingdom. To answer the question of how police officers feel about the cameras and how they have impacted their duties, the researcher interviewed officers who have used the devices in the performance of their duties, as well as others who have not. The researcher will conduct a qualitative interview with the participants.

Research Questions

The largest question the researcher had regarding the topic is if the use of police body worn cameras will really prevent incidents such as Ferguson. Can the institution of BWC as an external method to add transparency into policing, be successful without addressing the underlying police cultural or racist motivations of the actions in the first place? The researcher also focused on finding out if it is the police themselves who want the cameras to prove their innocence, or if it is an imposition on police from the public to add transparency.

Additionally, how can the public access the footage and are there any safeguards in place to prevent footage from being lost or cameras being conveniently turned off at critical times? Also unknown to me is the technical aspect of handling, classification, and storage of the video data. Take for example the LAPD, who will soon to be acquiring 7,000 BWC. The cameras can conservatively generate 280 thousand hours of footage a week, and over a million hours a month, assuming a 40-hour work week. Will departments able to effectively use the data they collect?

Difficulties and Limitations

The potential difficulties the researcher had for this project is one of project scope and time limitations. The researcher is currently working a full time job, taking classes in Public Administration and expecting a baby in September. As such, the researcher performed the interviews in the evenings and on weekends. In addition, the researcher is predicting that with such a small sample size, the conclusions drawn from my interviews will not be representative of the Long Beach PD, or police officers in general. Another potential problem is one of access to interviewees. The researcher did not know if there was access to the Long Beach PD for interviews, and had to place inquiries with other departments. The issue of scope can be mitigated by collected data of the other studies to confirm or refute my findings with the interviews. Even so, the interviews were informative as a case study of how police feel about the BWC technology.

Background of the Study

In recent years, the use of body-worn-cameras (BWC) by police has received a considerable media attention. BWCs are often intended to achieve a variety of aims, including the reduction of police use-of-force, as well as complaints waged against the officers, enhancing transparency and legitimacy, increasing prosecution rates and attaining improvement of evidence capture by the police. According to Ariel, Farrar, and Sutherland (2015), there has been increased publicity that BWCs can actually ensure that police officers change flawed police practices, which is epitomized in a court ruling, specifically in a 2013 Manhattan Federal District Court, where officers in the New York Police Department were ordered to wear BWCs to prevent instances of racial profiling. In essence, many of the personnel in the department had the highest volume of stop-and-frisk, and were seen to profile people based on their race, and therefore, the use of BWCs would significantly reduce or mitigate the problem. As the researchers highlighted, both force and complaints are often assumed to be undesirable negative events, as they can exacerbate a poor and volatile relationship between the police and the public, which should always be kept to a minimum.

In essence, the topic of police brutality and excessive use of force has been at the forefront of the American consciousness over the past several years. Incidents of police brutality have been part of the larger discussion of racism that the country is embroiled in. The 2014 incident in Ferguson, MO where Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer, and the violent unrest afterward, highlighted the festering problem of racism and distrust of police by African Americans. In reaction to this and other high-profile cases of police brutality, as well as the proliferation of smartphone video and live-streaming, police departments across the nation have begun the implementation of body worn cameras to offer objective evidence in cases that may otherwise come down to he-said-she-said.

The current public feeling for police officers ranges from love to hate and the behavior of police officers are highlighted frequently in the national media. The researcher chose this topic because much of the discussion around police brutality has been centered on race, and as an ethnic minority it is concerning. The researcher does not have any animosity or a prevailingly negative view of police officers, but thinks that many in my community do. The researchers experience with the police has been framed by growing up middle class in a predominantly white, small sized city. The researchers previous interactions with the police have been limited to traffic stops when the researcher was younger, and reporting a friends stolen car. Currently, the researcher lives in a large city with large Hispanic, African American, and Asian populations, and differing views of the police and authority.

This section, the background to the study, provides a good starting point to discuss the topic of police brutality objectively. The researcher will have to keep in mind the perspective of those who have grown up in the environment that 52 years ago erupted in the Watts riots, and the 26 years ago in the Rodney King riots. There is probably a generational mistrust of the police in many Los Angeles communities.

The methodology used to evaluate the BWCs is described next. To examine the broader question of how BWC have impacted the numbers of use of force incidents and citizen complaints, the researcher performed a meta-analysis of the available studies conducted in BWC pilot programs. Researchers have published studies in BWC programs from Phoenix, Orlando, and the United Kingdom. To answer the question of how police officers feel about the cameras and how they have impacted their duties, the researcher interviewed officers who have used the devices in the line of duty, as well as others who have not.

For the interview portion of the study, the researcher interviewed police officers for the Long Beach Police Department. Beginning in November of 2016, the Long Beach PD began a trial of BWC with 40 officers (Dobruck, 2016). The researcher chose the Long Beach Police Department because he lives in Long Beach and would like to know how this technology is impacting the community he lives in. The researcher does not have any personal contacts within the department. However, the researcher's brother-in-law was previously a police officer with a different department and has some friends in the Long Beach Police Department that may help gain access to officers to interview.

Literature Review

Body-Worn Cameras

Body-Worn Cameras (BWCs) in recent years have emerged as a potential solution to the evolving discussion around police legitimacy and trust issues. President Obama endorsed the implementation and adoption of BWCs in policing and allocated $263 million to a federal program intended to fund the BWC implementation in nationwide local police departments (The White House Office of the Press Secretary, 2014). BWCs are audio and video recording devices that police officers were in their uniform while undertaking duties as officers. They come in multiple styles and are mountable in multiple places on the officers uniform, for example, in collars, in a frame of a pair of glasses, or even in the breast pockets. Their main use is to record events that lead up to and during police encounters with individuals they serve. As such, they enable the review committee to determine from an objective perspective, transparent evidence that can subsequently diminish any desire for fellow officers to cover up any instances of misconduct of another officer. Instead of asking about the conducts of another officer, auditors can play the BWCs recordings, which eliminates any instances of untruthfulness, and diminishes any desire to cover up for any misconduct.

According to White (2014), the potential benefits of BWCs include the increase in transparency and citizen views of legitimacy among police officers. They also have a civilizing effect, which results in improved behavior among both citizens and police officers. In culmination to the use of BWCs among police officers, the level of complaints by citizens decreases significantly. Besides, White (2014) also articulates that BWCs have evidentiary benefits for expediting resolution of citizen complaints or lawsuits, thereby improving evidence for arrest and prosecution. They also reduce the likelihood that citizens will file falsified or untruthful complaints. BWCs also provide an opportunity to provide training for police officers. However, as White (2014) articulates, they also present some perceived problems and concerns, including the possibility that they can create citizen, as well as police officer privacy concerns. They also create concerns for officer health and safety, such as instances of a neck injury. As White (2014) also articulates, BWCs also require significant investments regarding policy development and training, as well as commitments of resources, finances, and logistics.

Issues Influencing the Adoption of BWCs

The recent state-level court proceedings pertaining to the impact of law enforcement procedures, particularly the New Yorks Stop and Frisk, have led to a national;l attention on the numerous issues that surround police accountability, as well as community relations (Floyd et al. vs. City of New York et al., 2013). Essentially, the New York court rulings have initiated various discussions on novel policy recommendations to address ethical and legal responsibilities of officers, as well as civilians. According to Floyd et al. vs. City of New York et al. (2013), the use of body-worn cameras (BWCs) on police officers is expressly recommended to help in addressing liability from a purely objective point of view. Recent and tragic high profile events that have led to the c...

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