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Study: Half of law enforcement leadership supports police cameras

A first-of-its-kind study conducted by researchers at the University of West Florida and Florida Atlantic University has found that officer use of body-worn cameras (BWCs) enjoys strong support among law enforcement officials.

The paper, “Police-Worn Body Cameras: Perceptions of Law Enforcement Leadership,” revealed that half of the law enforcement leadership surveyed support the use of BWCs.

“Law enforcement leadership sees BWCs as a way for the officers to tell their side of the story,” said Dr. Matthew Crow, chair of the University of West Florida Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Crow, working with UWF colleague Dr. Jamie Snyder, and Drs. John Smykla and Vaughn Crichlow from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, surveyed “a large Southern county with 27 local law enforcement agencies, home to a number of state and federal law enforcement agencies, and a population of approximately 1.3 million people” to gauge their thoughts on the new technology.

After several high-profile officer-involved shootings, including the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Tamir Rice in Cleveland, public trust in law enforcement has slipped considerably. According to a recent Gallup poll, those numbers are at their lowest level since 1993. BWCs are a response to that mistrust, Crow said.

“The use of BWCs has developed quickly as a response to public outcry,” he said. “Many in leadership see the use as a positive thing as it will be available if a situation arises.”

The paper also revealed:

• Law enforcement was polarized in what effect BWCs will have on officers performing their job duties. Approximately as many respondents agree/strongly agree as disagree/strongly disagree that BWCs will help police officers do their job and that BWCs will be a distraction for officers and impede on their ability to properly react to emergency situations.

• On the issue of privacy, two out of three respondents do not believe that BWCs are an invasion of a police officer’s privacy, but they are evenly split on whether BWCs are an invasion of citizens’ privacy.

• Fifty percent of respondents believe that BWCs will improve citizen behavior during interactions with the police, and 43.5 percent believe BWCs will improve citizens’ views of police legitimacy. At the same time, however, 45.9 percent of command staff believe that BWCs will make citizens and witnesses more reluctant to talk to police

• Almost 60 percent agree/strongly agree that the media will use data from BWCs to embarrass or persecute police, and two-thirds agree/strongly agree that the use of BWCs is supported by the public because society does not trust police. Furthermore, 6 out of 10 agree/strongly agree that pressure to implement BWCs comes from the media. However, when asked if there was pressure to implement BWCs from city/state government, no discernible pattern emerged.

The next phase of the project will focus on the public’s perception of BWCs. The data collection has already begun, as the research team is working with the UWF Haas Center to conduct surveys to look at where opinions stand outside of law enforcement.