While police body-worn cameras (BWCs) are often touted as a “tool in the toolbox” that could help reduce violence between law enforcement officers and community members and increase police accountability, the reality is far more complex. Emerging
data is preliminary, but studies do indicate that the impact of BWCs may
depend on the rules placed around their use—and if BWCs are deployed with
rules not geared towards accountability, they could actually exacerbate the very
violence they are being deployed to combat.
Add in concerns around community-police trust, privacy, surveillance, and
predictive policing, and it becomes apparent just how difficult—if not impossible—it will be for BWCs to achieve the goal of improved police accountability. In
this article, I hope to make explicit some of the policy choices around BWCs. I
encourage decision-makers to consider the evidence around BWCs (rather than
simply trust in their intuition), to prioritize the police accountability purpose of
BWCs, and to make rules for BWCs that match that priority.
Not a Panacea
by Shankar Narayan