Institute Researchers Analyze Public Views about Police Body-Worn Cameras

Albany, NY, September 30, 2020 – Finn Institute researchers recently completed a study of public opinions about police body-worn cameras.  They surveyed nearly 1,500 people with whom Albany (NY) police had contact.  Respondents were asked about their support for body-worn cameras, their views about the effectiveness of body-worn cameras, their concerns regarding the privacy implications of body-worn cameras.  They were also asked about their interaction with police: whether they were aware that the officer(s) were wearing a body-worn camera, whether the camera affected (or would have affected) their own behavior, and how fairly they were treated by police.

They found “that BWCs are seen as a means to widely supported ends of police transparency and accountability,” which enjoyed support by 95% of the survey respondents, and that “Support … cuts across demographic categories, many of which are normally associated with ideological and partisan cleavages.”  However, they also found that “When we scratch the surface of the nearly consensual support for police BWC, we find a more complex – even tangled – set of attitudes toward and reactions to BWC among members of the public who have had contact with police equipped with BWC.  ….  A substantial fraction are concerned about the implications of BWC for their privacy.  And for many of those and others, BWC are reportedly a reason to hesitate to call police for assistance.”

Hannah Cochran, the lead author of the report, remarked that “Evidence of body-worn camera efficacy largely emerges from research that overlooks the significance of public opinion and perception. Research like this can help both expand our knowledge base of the public’s views of body-worn cameras, and inform the field on how we might strengthen the technology’s potential to positively impact both police and citizens.”

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