Behavior and actions of police officers are often subjected to scrutiny. Thus, such a thorough examination makes police services a unique public profession when compared to others. It is usually defined by the intense involvement of citizens and civil activists in the defense processes conducted by the police. Thus, a number of lawsuits filed by the public against police departments are growing (Ariel, Farrar, & Sutherland, 2015). Recently, the police departments have adopted various initiatives, such as the civilian oversight boards and an increase of the minimum academic requirements for police officers, in order to boost the level of professionalism. Still, these efforts have had an insignificant impact on the enhancement of the actions and behavior of the police (Coldren, Huntoon, & Medaris, 2013). As a result, the police departments are encouraged to employ novel technologies in order to improve the interaction between the police and citizens. For example, it is possible to take advantage of body worn camera (BWC) for recording police-civilian interactions and strengthening the effectiveness and accountability of police officers (Drover & Ariel, 2015). This device is attached to the police officer’s uniform, usually to the shoulder or upper lapel. Nowadays, the police-civilian interaction can be easily recorded and monitored by the onlookers due to the rapid smartphones proliferation. However, the data can be mediocre because cameras might not capture the image in detail (Farrar & Ariel, 2013). Indeed, there are numerous incidences indicating that these incomprehensive recordings show biased representations of the behavior and actions of police officers. Undoubtedly, they might negatively affect the level of trust the public have in the police department as well as their legitimacy.
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It is stated that the body cameras are able to foster a sense of responsibility and authority in the law enforcement officers by monitoring their behavior; however, there is little evidence to affirm this claim (Harris, 2010). The lack of solid facts regarding the impact of the BWC on police-civilian interaction and police effectiveness occurs because it is still a relatively novel technology. Thus, it is yet to be explored comprehensively. The professed aim of body cameras is the result of the studies that examined the impacts of similar technologies in the past, including video surveillance, closed circuit television (CCTV), and the dashboard camera (Jennings, Fridell, & Lynch, 2014). The vast research on CCTV and video surveillance focuses on the crime prevention rather than the possible improvement of the police performance. Overwhelming evidence suggests the important role that the latest technology plays in preventing crime because of the common belief that potential offenders are being constantly monitored. The same idea was stimulating when the dashboard cameras were installed widely in the course of the 1980s (Jennings, Lynch, & Fridell, 2015). The dashboard camera aimed to reduce incidences of assaults on police officers, to increase citizen compliance, and to ensure a safe working environment for the police. Apart from that, the dashboard camera was also important for discouraging policemen from engaging in racial profiling. The proofs confirm that this specialist equipment boosted the liability of the police forces, increased their safety, and simplified the process of incident review. The patrol officers stated that the dashboard camera compelled them to stick to protocol when interacting with suspects and citizens (Drover & Ariel, 2015).
Unfortunately, the dashboard cameras were available only to police officers in the vehicles. Consequently, the body camera should have addressed that limitation. They were first tested in 2005. In the US, the police departments were reluctant to implement the body camera policy expressing major concerns about the high costs and violation of the right to privacy. In practice, the expenses arose out of the need to maintain equipment and store video data (White, 2014). Theoretically, the body camera can help to process the legitimate claims and to find false complaints filed against the police officers. Additionally, they can encourage citizens to safely rely on policemen and policewomen. Another objective of this technology is to improve police legitimacy based on the fair and reliable procedures. Investigations of the police conduct concentrate on the events and the following decisions made by police officers to use force and may result in a narrow and biased view of the incident if the bigger picture is disregarded. The body camera policy has the potential of tackling this limitation (Ready & Young, 2015). Moreover, it is expected that when the police officers wear body cameras, they are self-aware and cautious in terms of their actions and behavior during police-civilian interactions.
Lack of police legitimacy and public distrust of the police can result in disastrous outcomes (White, 2014). Thus, it is crucial for the police departments to employ any necessary means within the law to strengthen their accountability and public trust. To produce beneficial changes, the positive interactions with civilians should begin. However, despite the primary objectives promoted by the policy of body cameras to influence the behavior of police and civilians, evidence does not suggest that they can boost accountability and police professionalism. Moreover, they cannot ensure that people will behave appropriately in the presence of the police. A research performed by Farrar and Ariel (2013) examining the impact of the body camera at the Rialto Police Department indicated that the use of body cameras decreased the number of incidents involving the use of force by approximately 50 percent. However, the researchers were not able to ascertain whether the behavioral changes had happened because of the policemen understanding of the camera’s presence or because of the citizens who had changed their behavior after noticing the camera. In general, it is essential to explore the impact of body cameras on the behavior of police and citizens.