Police work is never simple, and many steps should be taken to understand the duties of police officers and other team members and recognize recent achievements in the field. Some changes in communication tools cannot be ignored because communication plays a crucial role in police activities, affecting data management, guidance, and cooperation. Having the right equipment is a critical necessity for police officers to use real-time information, respond properly, and stay safe (MacGillivray, 2019). Police body cams or body-worn cameras (BWCs) are small wearable devices for police officers to record interactions between law enforcement employees and community members. Despite the extensive research about these cameras, there is still a serious gap in knowledge about BWCs’ impact on police-citizens relationships and behaviors (Lum et al., 2019). Thus, this paper aims to analyze police officers’ and citizens’ perspectives concerning body cameras and compare the costs and benefits of the chosen communication tool. Although officers admit increased negative attitudes of citizens towards being recorded or high costs of technological advancement, this communication choice is associated with the possibility to improve operations, produce evidence, increasing transparency, and manage misconduct.
Police Officers’ Perspectives
The quality of police work has already undergone multiple discussions and reflections during the last ten years, and wearing effective communication tools is believed to improve officers’ activities. Since the 2014 police shooting and disagreeing witness information about the conflict between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, the American President’s administration introduced the program to implement BWCs in 32 states (Ulmer & Harte, 2021). On the one hand, police officers can use this device to present clear and actual information. It is correct to consider BWCs as a chance to reduce unreasonable public complaints and frivolous community opinions (National Police Foundation, 2020). Police officers find cams effective in demonstrating events from their points of view and observing situations. This communication tool does not change their behaviors but allows them to gather enough information and remove biases.
On the other hand, these cameras are never cheap and usually characterized by unclear ethical issues. Most police departments should be prepared for high costs to support the necessary programs, train employees, and understand how to use gathered information (National Police Foundation, 2020). Even if small investments can be required at the initial implementation stage, additional administrative and data storage costs emerge with time (National Police Foundation, 2020). Not many police officers are ready to spend their resources for safety purposes and question the importance of BWCs in their regions. In addition, some officers report body cams as another reason for conflict with citizens based on privacy worries and willingness to cooperate with the police (Lum et al., 2019). When people understand that their actions are recorded, some fear or questions occur and provoke unnecessary communication and quarrels with police officers. Thus, from a pure officer perspective, a body cam cannot be called a positive or negative communication tool but one with ambiguous outcomes.
Citizens’ Perceptions and Behaviors
Many people believe that if a police officer wears a body cam, misconduct and unfair treatment should be significantly reduced; so, they habitually support the implementation of this communication tool. Researchers report minimized complaints about wrong officer behaviors and the possibility of preventing accusations (MacGillivray, 2019). Police officers have the right to use weapons that could take someone’s life, and the level of protection has to be high to provide citizens with guarantees that the police do not hurt them. Body cams record real-life events and shows what steps are taken, what words and tones are used, and what outcomes are achieved. People are satisfied with police accountability and transparency if BWCs are worn and may be offered as legal evidence. It is possible to call such transparency into question because these videos do not offer an overall view of a situation (Ulmer & Harte, 2021). Still, as a police officer wears it, it demonstrates exactly what this person sees at the moment. Trust between community members and the representatives of the law is increased in case cameras work all the time, and no compromising factors are revealed.
At the same time, the National Police Foundation (2020) found out that young individuals do not always perceive BWCs as a positive contribution to social order and equality. This communication tool provokes new questions because some Americans live in fear of crime, and many issues remain poorly explained. Sometimes, citizens do not remember that there is a camera on an officer or do not have enough information about recording conditions (National Police Foundation, 2020). Poor public awareness results in the inability to hold police accountable even if camera recordings are present (Lee, 2021). In other words, ordinary citizens want to believe that BWC programs help reduce causal deaths and racial inequalities in American society, proving the prevalence of positive community attitudes.
Costs and Benefits of Police Body Cams
Taking into consideration the presence of benefits and shortages of police body cams, the task is to understand if the benefits of this idea cover the costs that are required for its implementation. The potential changes in communication include the possibility of recording information and delivering it directly to the department during the process. It is expected those police officers obtain recommendations and help to solve a particular problem and make the right decision. Citizens, in their turn, may ask questions and be sure to have all the answers from the representatives of law enforcement. Modern technological devices and knowledge allow police employees to work with footage, edit the material, and manipulate information (Lee, 2021). Therefore, it is reasonable to clarify how police body cams work, when the recording begins, and what information may be publicly revealed. Some individuals are concerned about their crimes or misbehaviors being stored in the system and available to their business partners or other interested parties. In such cases, the achieved benefits of WBCs hardly cover the expected costs (either financial or personal).
However, in most situations, body cams are characterized by many positive achievements and prospects. The National Police Foundation (2020) calls this communication tool a “game-changer” in terms of police accountability, data transparency, and misconduct reduction. Police administration also observes a decline in the number of discretionary warnings and the intention to improve the quality of cooperation in communities (Lum et al., 2019). Conformations between police officers and ordinary citizens can be reduced if police body cams are used properly, with no dilemmas, personal purposes, or subjective arguments. If some questionable situations emerge, communication with police body cams turns out to be fair, unbiased, and available for external evaluations, observations, and discussion.
Communication is one of the major keys to successful police work and the establishment of fair relationships between police officers and citizens. Today, society has access to many different tools for information exchange, storage, and cooperation, and body cams are probably the most questionable tools from the point of view of law enforcement. Although such benefits and changes as police accountability, data transparency, and minimized social conflicts are associated with body cams, ethical and financial aspects provoke new discussions and questions. Many police departments have already implemented WBCs programs to prove the fair attitudes of police officers toward citizens. It is important to communicate real-life information properly, without racial biases, power judgments, and insufficient arguments.
Lee, J. (2021). Will body cameras help end police violence? ACLU Washington. Web.
Lum, C., Stoltz, M., Koper, C. S., & Scherer, J. A. (2019). Research on body‐worn cameras. Criminology & Public Policy, 18(1), 93–118. Web.
MacGillivray, L. (2019). What communication technology do police officers need? Chicomm Blog. Web.
National Police Foundation. (2020). Police body cameras: What have we learned over ten years of deployment? [PDF document]. Web.
Ulmer, A., & Harte, J. (2021). Explainer: How police body-worn cameras are used in the United States. Reuters. Web.