Assessing citizen perceptions of body-worn cameras after encounters with police

This paper, published in Policing: An International Journal, was recently selected as an Outstanding Paper in the 2018 Emerald Literati Awards. As a result, the article has been made freely available for twelve months, so make the most of this offer and check out the full article here!

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to assess perceptions of body-worn cameras (BWCs) among citizens who had BWC-recorded police encounters, and to explore the potential for a civilizing effect on citizen behavior.

Design/methodology/approach – From June to November 2015, the authors conducted telephone interviews with 249 citizens in Spokane (WA) who had a recent BWC-recorded police encounter.

Findings – Respondents were satisfied with how they were treated during the police encounter and, overall, had positive attitudes about BWCs. However, only 28 percent of respondents were actually aware of the BWC during their own encounter. The authors also found little evidence of a civilizing effect but did document a significant, positive connection between awareness of the BWC and enhanced perceptions of procedural justice.

Research limitations/implications – Authors only interviewed citizens who had encounters with officers wearing BWCs. However, variation in BWC awareness among citizens allowed the authors to construct a proxy “non-BWC condition” for comparison.

Practical implications – The pre-conditions necessary to produce a civilizing effect among citizens are complex and difficult to achieve. The intriguing relationship between BWC awareness and procedural justice suggests the technology may have the potential to improve police legitimacy.

Originality/value – The study is among the first to explore attitudes about BWCs among those who have their police encounters recorded, and results demonstrate high levels of support among this population. Findings bode well for continued adoption of BWCs in policing.