Impact of Body Worn Camera on Police Professionalism

In policing, contentious actions and behaviors of law enforcement officials often attract controversy and scrutiny. Therefore, the police work is more unique relative to professions in public service (Farrar, & Ariel, 2013). Law enforcement officers interact with civilians when they are in the most vulnerable and emotional state; consequently, it is imperative for police officers to exhibit high levels of professionalism. The nature of police officers’ work results in an atmosphere characterized by scrutiny from the members of the public, and in some instances, civil action (Ariel, Farrar, & Sutherland, 2015). This is evident by the increase in lawsuits filed by citizens against police agencies. Thus, recently, policing agencies have implemented numerous initiatives aimed at increasing police professionalism. Examples of such efforts include increasing the minimum educational requirements for police officers and establishing civilian oversight boards among others (White, 2014).

Recently, police agencies have been urged to embrace new technologies as a means of enhancing professionalism. One of the emerging technologies that have been proposed to help police agencies to enhance police accountability and effectiveness is the Body Worn Camera (BWC), which is an on-person video camera used in recording interactions between police officers and civilians (victims, suspects, and the public) (Farrar, & Ariel, 2013). The camera is attached to the uniform of the police officer, often in the upper lapel or shoulder lapel. Although most people have cell phones that are capable of recording videos, it is common for such recordings to capture only a fragment of the interaction. When this recording has been uploaded to the Internet and social media, the likely biased representation of the officer’s actions and behavior can be detrimental to police legitimacy and public trust on the agency (White, 2014). The BWC has been described as having the potential of creating a sense of responsibility as well as authority among police officers since their behaviors and actions are monitored; however, scanty evidence supports this assertion. Since BWC is a relatively new technology, its impacts are largely unexplored, which is the focus of the proposed research. This study is important because of the mounting pressure on police agencies to be accountable. Thus, the findings of this research will help to affirm whether BWCs can help enhance police professionalism. To this end, the proposed research seeks to explore the impact of BWC on police professionalism.

Literature Review

Video surveillance in policing was first used in 1956 when video cameras were deployed for regulating the behavior of people at traffic lights (Welsh, & Farrington, 2009). The 1960 saw the first deployment of pan-tilt cameras for monitoring crowds, which led to the development of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras (Ratcliffe, Taniguchi, & Taylor, 2009). In the United Kingdom, the use of video technology in law enforcement has been steadfast. However, in the United States, law enforcement agencies have been hesitant to implement CCTV technology. Bulk of research on CCTV has placed emphasis on its role in preventing crime. The theoretical support for CCTV in preventing crime draws upon the rational crime theory, wherein likely offenders are made aware that their actions are being watched. Studies have affirmed that the use of CCTV technology can significantly lessen crime (Ratcliffe, Taniguchi, & Taylor, 2009; Welsh, & Farrington, 2009).

Another video technology deployed by law enforcement agencies is the dashboard camera, which emerged in the 1960s and became popular during the 1980s (Harris, 2010). Dashboard cameras were installed to enhance citizen compliance, prevent officers from being assaulted, and increase the safety of the working environment. Moreover, the video evidence captured by the camera proved effective in discouraging racial profiling of motorists and helping with such cases (Harris, 2010). Studies indicate that dashboard cameras help in enhancing the safety of officers; they enhanced police accountability and helped in simplifying incident review processes. Moreover, patrol officers indicated that dashboard cameras prompted them to adhere to protocol with respect to the way they treated citizens and suspects (Carter, & Wilson, 2006).

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With the heightened concerns regarding civil liability and accountability, it is imperative to police agencies to be flexible in adopting novel technologies into their policing practices (Farrar, & Ariel, 2013). Due to developments in video technology, the limitations associated with the dashboard camera have been addressed by the BWC since interactions can be recorded even when police officers are not in the vehicle. BWCs were first field-tested in 2005; however, police departments in the US have been slow to adopt this technology. Concerns have been raised relating to privacy and costs (Harris, 2010). Preliminary field research indicates that average length of video recorded and stored by officers wearing BWCs is 30-40 minutes, which varies in accordance with the department’s policy (discretionary or mandatory) and the number of officers in the field (White, 2014). The costs associated with maintaining and storing video data are significant.

BWCs have the potential of helping to differentiate legitimate from meritless claims, thereby assisting in discrediting falsified complaints (Ariel, Farrar, & Sutherland, 2015). Theoretically, BWCs reinforce accountability among officers. Moreover, it can help foster police legitimacy due to the reliable and fair police procedures. When BWC policies are transparent, public participation and scrutiny is facilitated (Farrar, & Ariel, 2013). In addition, BWCs make it possible to examine events on a frame by frame basis, which facilitates analysis up to the final frame. Police investigations often focus on events that precede the decision to make use of force, which leads to a biased, narrow perspective of the incident devoid of considering the broader situation. BWCs are capable of addressing this limitation by offering more information on whom or what may have prompted the encounter (Farrar, & Ariel, 2013). When the police wear BWCs, they are cautions and self-aware with respect to their behaviors and actions when interacting with citizens.

Despite the promise of BWCs in influencing the behavior of police officers, there is little hard evidence suggesting that BWCs foster police accountability and overall professionalism, which can be attributed to the fact that the technology is still its infancy stages. A study by Farrar and Ariel (2013) in the Rialto Police Department reported that wearing BWCs reduced the use of force incidents by about 50 percent. Nevertheless, the researchers were unable to determine whether the change in the behavior is attributed to the presence of the camera or a change in a citizen’s behavior. Overall, there is scarce research focusing on the effect of BWCs on police professionalism. Therefore, before this technology is adopted on a large scale, there is a need to explore the way this revolutionary technology will affect performance of the police their duties.

Methods

The proposed study will make use of a pretest-posttest quasi-experimental design involving 100 police officers in a selected police department. The sampling approach that will be used in the proposed study is random sampling. Moreover, the sample will be divided into two groups comprising of 50 police officers assigned to wear BWCs (treatment group) and another group that will not wear BWCs (control group). It is imperative to note that participants will not be assigned to groups randomly. Police officers will be requested to volunteer to wear BWCs. It is also imperative to ensure that the control and treatment groups will be similar in age, policing experience, ranks, gender, education, race, and complaints documented in the previous year.

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In the proposed study, the independent variable is wearing BWC whereas the dependent variable is police professionalism. There is agreement in the literature that police professionalism is a complex and ambiguous complex (Carter, & Wilson, 2006; Farrar, & Ariel, 2013). Therefore, developing a scale to measure police professionalism remains elusive. Moreover, police officers have different views with respect to what constitutes police professionalism. For some officers, professionalism entails the ability to tackle a dangerous situation without using force whereas other officers consider professionalism as the ability to forge positive relationships with the community (Carter, & Wilson, 2006). Other aspects associated with police professionalism include responsibility for one’s behavior, respecting civil rights of people, having legal knowledge, and preventing the escalation of tensions among others (Farrar, & Ariel, 2013). Empirical studies have used various measures of police professionalism such as the number of disciplinary actions, complaints filed citizens against a police officer, number of arrests, sick time utilized, performance evaluations, injuries in the line of work, incidents associated with the use of force, decision-making ability of police officers, commitment level, professional attitude, and probationary evaluations (Carter, & Wilson, 2006). In the proposed study, police professionalism is simply operationalized as the number of citizen complaints and the use of force incidents. These measures of police professionalism have been commonly used. Moreover, they are objective measures.

The time frame for the study is a period of three months, which is considered appropriate because it will enable the researcher to consider the effects of BWCs over time. This will be important in showing the trends and patterns of the dependent variable over time, which can be a powerful approach of inferring causal relationships according to White (2014). In the proposed research, the levels of police professionalism (incidents of use of force and citizen complaints in the past three months) will be measured before providing the treatment group with BWCs. After three months, the use of force cases and citizen complaints will be compiled. The emphasis will be on determining whether significant differences exist between the treatment and control groups. A case of improvement in the treatment group and not in the control group will mean that BWCs can help enhance police professionalism.

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