External Stakeholder Perceptions of Police Body-Worn Cameras

Between 2013 and 2017, body-worn cameras (BWCs) spread widely amongst police agencies in the United States. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated one-third of police agencies (approximately 3,900) were at least pilot testing BWCs in 2013 (Reaves, 2015). Since then, high profile events compelled other departments to move quickly to equip their officers with cameras. Moving forward, experts project that all medium to large agencies will likely have them within five years (Capps, 2015). It is suggested that BWCs have the potential to enhance citizen trust in police, assist with case prosecution, protect officers against frivolous complaints, temper police-citizen interactions, and reduce police use of force (White, 2014). Of primary concern to police agencies is how to implement a BWC program that realizes these benefits while still meeting the agency’s needs, as well as garnering support for the technology and smoothly integrating changes into existing structures and operations. A crucial component of this process is assessing and incorporating the perspectives of external stakeholders who are impacted by police BWCs. External stakeholders’ acceptance of a police innovation shapes how it spreads and impacts the larger criminal justice system. Therefore, a lack of support among external stakeholders for BWCs can short-circuit their intended benefits. Existing research studies have, however, focused on the implications of BWCs for police officers and the citizens with whom they come into direct contact. As such, there is little direction for agencies concerning the perceptions and concerns about BWCs from others who are affected by a department’s decision to implement a new program. The current study addressed this lack of guidance by identifying a range of stakeholders in two U.S. cities where the police department had recently implemented a BWC program. This report reviews findings from in-depth interviews and focus groups with 42 external stakeholders, investigating their perceptions of the technology and its impact on their daily work practices. The sample ranges from courtroom actors (judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and investigators in those offices) to professionals who work cooperatively with police in the field (e.g., fire/rescue and mental health), city leaders, members of civilian oversight review boards, and crime victim advocates. The report concludes by offering suggestions for agencies on how to best plan and implement a BWC program in ways that meet the needs of all stakeholders. The file below containts the full review.