President Obama requested $75 million for police body cameras thinking that would build trust between police and the black community, but a new study shows that it made no discernible difference in how officers did their jobs.
The New York Times reported on “the largest, most rigorous study of police body cameras in the United States” that came out on Friday and the results “are surprising both police officers and researchers.”
For seven months, just over a thousand Washington, D.C., police officers were randomly assigned cameras — and another thousand were not. Researchers tracked use-of-force incidents, civilian complaints, charging decisions and other outcomes to see if the cameras changed behavior. But on every metric, the effects were too small to be statistically significant. Officers with cameras used force and faced civilian complaints at about the same rates as officers without cameras.
The conclusion suggested that expectations of behavioral changes due to bodycams needs to be “recalibrated.”
The high-profile media coverage of the police killings of black suspects of the last few years set off a nationwide debate and increased federal meddling in state business under the Obama administration. As a result, the pressure built for police departments to begin using body cameras as Obama often used his public speeches to bend the arms of police chiefs. He even handed over $40 million to help pay for the equipment. But even then, there’s not enough money to cover all that’s needed. Small cameras pinned to the chest or shoulders of an officer is expensive enough, but the bigger expense is the storage required to keep thousands of hours of daily footage on hard drives.
“About 40 percent of it is deleted within 90 days, while the rest is to be kept for months, years or decades, depending on the statute of limitations for the charges connected to the footage,” the NYT explained.
A technology and social issues consulting firm in Washington that wasn’t involved in the study said it doesn't appear the tremendous costs are worth it:
“This is the most important empirical study on the impact of police body-worn cameras to date. The results call into question whether police departments should be adopting body-worn cameras, given their high cost.”
But some still argue that these devices will improve relations and will at least offer a more objective look at controversial incidents between police and suspects. D.C. Chief Peter Newsham believes the cost is justifiable: “The transparency and trust that the community has, knowing your department is recording the interactions, I don’t think you can undervalue that.”