Exploring the Perceptions of Police Body-Worn Cameras among Officers in Specialized Units

Police body-worn cameras (BWCs) have diffused rapidly in law enforcement both in the United States and abroad. BWCs are perceived to have wide ranging benefits, from increased transparency and police legitimacy to reduced use of force and citizen complaints. Given that the vast majority of police-citizen encounters involve patrol officers, departments have almost universally focused on the deployment of the technology to frontline officers assigned to patrol. Questions have begun to emerge regarding the potential utility of BWCs for specialized units in a police department, such as K9, traffic, tactical, gang, and undercover units. Given the near-sole focus on patrol, the role of specialized units in BWC deployment is often overlooked. Further, the advantages, disadvantages, and challenges associated with BWCs may be very different for specialized units than for patrol. There is little to no guidance on this issue from either the academic literature or police leadership organizations (e.g., the International Association of Chiefs of Police [IACP]). The authors explore this issue through focus groups conducted with officers assigned to specialized units in the Spokane (WA) and Tempe (AZ) Police Departments. We interviewed officers from more than 15 different specialized units, collecting their perceptions on a wide range of issues tied to BWCs. The focus groups identified important considerations for the unique challenges and benefits of deploying BWCs to officers in specialized units, which are highlighted below. Based on the officer’s responses, we propose five recommendations for agency to contemplate when deploying BWCs to specialized units.

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