Study Examines Public Perception of Police Body-Worn Cameras

Police body-worn cameras are becoming more widely used by departments to document interactions between law enforcement and the public across the United States.

In 2015, Dr. Matthew Crow, chair of the UWF Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, and Dr. Jamie Snyder, assistant professor, along with colleagues from Florida Atlantic University, published a study of law enforcement leadership’s perceptions of body cam use in their work.

Continuing their work, the team has now tackled the public’s perception of body cams.  According to Crow, the study’s results back up what researchers expected – with a few surprises.

“We found overall support for body-worn cameras among the general public,” Crow said. “What surprised us was we found some differences in the reasons for the factors that affected that support.”

Eighty-seven percent of respondents felt that BWCs would improve police officer behavior, and 70 percent agreed that BWCs would improve citizen behavior in encounters with the police, according to the study.

“Given the sort of negative light in which police have been presented over the past several years following the Ferguson shooting and subsequent shootings after that, we really expected that those who had more negative views of the police and police performance would see greater benefit to the implementation of body worn cameras,” Crow said. “What we actually found was citizens who had more positive views of the police – who thought the police were doing a good job and treated people fairly – those were the people who actually had the most support for body-worn cameras.”

The opposite was true for those with a negative view of law enforcement, Crow said.

“The people that had lower perceptions of the police in general were less likely to say that BWCs would improve police behavior and citizen behavior and police legitimacy,” he said.

Another surprising finding was that those with high levels of concern about crime were less inclined to see a benefit is BWC use, but Crow said there was an underlying cause for the result.

“That was indirect relationship. It worked through their perceptions of police performance,” Crow said. “People who perceived or had greater fear of crime, thought the police weren’t doing as good of a job and therefore perceived less benefit of BWCs.”

Crow’s research is continuing. The second phase of the citizen survey has begun, and the researchers are going to compare the results to the results of the last citizen survey. The team is also working on the next phase of their study of how the public and law enforcement view BWC use.

“We’ve started working on analyzing data on police officer perceptions –those that are out there using BWCs in the field,” Crow said.

The current study, “Community Perceptions of Police Body-Worn Cameras: The Impact of Views on Fairness, Fear, Performance, and Privacy,” has been accepted for publication in the journal “Criminal Justice and Behavior” later this year.