Learning from the Body-Worn Camera Experience: Evidence-Based Solutions vs. Perceptional Pressure
July 30, 2019
Great article in the recent issue of Police Chief Magazine: Body-Worn Cameras Show Policing Policy Can't Afford to Hide from Evidence by Alex Trouteaud, PhD, Director, Criminal Justice Research, Arnold Ventures. Dr. Trouteaud makes the case, citing the events of 2014 and the subsequent rapid and costly adoption of the fairly new body-worn camera technology, that police agencies should take a different approach in the future. He recommends agencies should express "cautious enthusiasm" for new technology "while also subjecting the technology to rigorous, independent, and transparent, testing to ensure that they are the best choice for the agency and community". He closes the article by stating that the "unanswered questions in policing are how to accelerate the identification of evidence-based practices and how to better integrate testing into the front-end of the policy change process". I wholeheartedly agree and would like to add a few additional comments.
Body-worn cameras were initially seen by many in the public as a panacea that would go a long way toward resolving the issue of police accountability. This perception became a reality, without any evidence-based foundation, that the policing profession simply couldn't avoid. Many agencies may have deployed body-worn cameras simply because of this perceptional pressure and the fear that they didn't want to be the next agency on national television with a controversial incident not captured on a body-worn camera. The perception was certainly fueled by the marketing of the camera manufacturers. Pressure from politicians, media and special interest groups added to the problem as did the quality of local police-community relations. So how do agencies slow the pace of this pressure while waiting for evidence-based proof? After all, we are five years post-Ferguson and the debate on the efficacy of body-worn cameras is still on-going.
As Dr. Trouteaud points out, acceleration of this evidence-based research approach is critical in providing timely feedback to counter the perceptional pressure. This requires quality research which takes time. It also requires a healthy and established relationship between the researchers and the police agency. This is not something that occurs without effort by both groups. Researchers and police agencies that have developed partnerships and exercised them in the past are better poised to meet the need of quality research that provides evidence-based support for a new technology.
Finally, perhaps one of the more important lessons learned from the body-worn camera experience of the past five years was the key role national policing organizations, the federal government and researchers have in assisting individual police agencies to make informed decisions about new technology. This support will become even more critical in the future. Just as critical will be the responsibility of police agencies to seek it out. Body-worn cameras, at the on-set, seemed like simple recording devices. Agencies quickly learned that there was much more to the equation. And we are still learning today. The next piece of transformative technology may be even more complex, expensive and with a far more diverse impact on the profession and the communities we serve. This makes the evidence-based approach, supported by all stakeholders, even more critical in stemming the perceptional pressure for rapid change.