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Note: This article’s statistics come from third-party sources and do not represent the opinions of this website.
Police body cameras, or body-worn cameras (BWCs), are small recording devices typically worn on the chest by police officers. They gather video and audio footage and are used to record interactions with the public and gather evidence from crime scenes. Globally, they have been used in one form or another since the early 2000s, and calls for their use have increased since high-profile cases like the death of George Floyd in 2020.
The most recent figures on body-worn camera use were released in 2016, so most data stems back to this time. However, public opinion tends to ebb and flow with support following well-documented incidents of alleged law enforcement violence against individuals.
Below, we have curated data and statistics on the implementation, use, and opinion of these devices. Read on to find out more.
One of the reasons body cams were introduced, and why rights groups have called for their use, is to encourage greater accountability from law enforcement officers. Between 2010 and 2020, there were 85,000 cases of officers being investigated for misconduct.
Most misconduct cases are routine or minor infractions but also include cases of the use of excessive force as well as alleged rape, molestation, and domestic violence by officers. Perjury and obstruction of investigations were also investigated.
These investigations led to more than 30,000 law enforcement officers being decertified, which means they were banned from being officers.
In 2014, President Obama funded programs to introduce body-worn cameras in 32 states across the US as a result of the police shooting of Michael Brown and the proceeding public outcry over the incident.
Nearly 50% of the country’s law enforcement agencies had implemented programs by 2016, and this adoption led to fewer complaints against officers. The figures suggest that body cams do enhance accountability and may prevent instances of violence by officers.
Although it is unclear exactly when BWCs were first implemented in the US, there are accounts of several police forces in the UK experimenting with and testing body cams in the UK as far back as 2005. Devon and Cornwall Police were the first force to use the technology, and by 2019, most forces were using them to some degree.
The largest trial of body cams in the UK was seen in 2014 when 500 cameras were distributed to police officers in London.
Although figures suggest that the general public largely supports the use of body-worn cameras, a common objection to their implementation is that they infringe on civil liberties. At the same time, some agencies are concerned about how the footage is used. To ensure that cameras are used according to directives, 86% of law enforcement agencies have policies that dictate their use.
However, this means that more than 1 in 10 do not have strict guidelines on how camera use should be implemented.
Not all agencies use body cameras, and some that have used them previously have halted their use. The main reason that camera use is resisted by agencies is because of their prohibitive cost. It is estimated that it costs several thousand dollars to purchase the camera, recording equipment, and devices on which to store the footage for a length of time.
Public access to footage is another area of concern and study, and this is determined at a state level rather than a federal level. Most states allow access to footage for criminal cases and to contest charges, but some, such as North Carolina, require a court order before footage is released. Even then, the footage is only accessible in certain instances and for certain cases.
Polls and surveys generally show that the public supports the use of body-worn cameras and body cam footage. In 2015, when asked about body cam implementation, more than 61% of people aged between 30 and 44 said they strongly supported the use of these devices, with the same proportion of 45- to 64-year-olds agreeing. Furthermore, 28% of 30- to 44-year-old and 30% of 45- to 64-year-olds said that they somewhat supported their use.
The age group that was least likely to strongly support the use of body cams was 18- to 29- year-olds. Around 45% of this age group said that they strongly supported their use, while 32% said that they somewhat supported them, meaning a total of 77% supported the use to some extent.
In contrast, just 6% of 1-8 to 29-year-olds said that they were strongly opposed to the idea of body-worn cameras, and 13% said that they were somewhat opposed to the idea. There were no 45- to 64- year-olds that strongly opposed their use, and only 3% somewhat opposed them, showing overwhelming support for the devices.
Calls for BWCs tend to increase following reported incidents of and alleged instances of police violence against individuals. Studies suggest that there is a drop in complaints against the police when such devices are worn. In fact, there are 17% fewer complaints.
Not only are there fewer complaints against police, but the use of force by police also falls with the use of body cams. Crime Lab reports that the use of force by police during both fatal and non-fatal incidents falls by 10% when body-worn cameras are used.
Although it has taken longer for the technology to be adopted by some countries, body-worn cameras are used around the world, although the UK and US are among the countries with the greatest uptake. In the UK, 85% of people surveyed said that they supported the use of the on-person recording devices.
Although body-worn cameras were not fully introduced to US law enforcement until 2014, they were already being used, albeit lightly. In 2013, a quarter of all US law enforcement agencies reported that they had implemented or were trialling the use of the cameras in their jurisdictions.
Body-worn cameras capture video and audio footage. The footage gathered can be used in criminal investigations and in instances of complaints being raised against law enforcement officers. They can also be used to gather evidence from crime scenes.
Body-worn cameras are not mandatory in most states, but they are currently mandatory in Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Carolina. Some of these states have planned phased rollouts, which means that their use is not yet mandatory. In Illinois, for example, the use of police body cameras goes into effect on January 1, 2023. (NCSL)
Body-worn cameras have been used for decades in the United States, but the modern cameras that are being used today were first introduced in 2014 by President Obama.
Body-worn cameras are common in the US and UK, as well as in some other countries around the world. They gather video and audio evidence and are used to gather evidence from crime scenes as well as in the investigation of complaints against law enforcement officers. Generally, there is overwhelming support for their use from the public. Seven states currently mandate their use or have firm plans to implement their use within the next 12 months.
Featured Image Credit: Utility_Inc, Pixabay
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Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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