Amid mounting scrutiny over how police officers interact with communities, the use of body cameras increased rapidly in the U.S. over the past decade, the Associated Press reports. Body cameras are forcing major changes in policing, even as research is mixed on their effectiveness. New York City became one of the first large departments to adopt body cameras in 2013 after a federal court found police wrongly targeted minorities with a stop-and-frisk program. Many more states joined amid the national outpouring of protest after the 2014 death of Michael Brown at the hands of police in Ferguson, Mo. By 2016, with an influx of federal money, 80% of large departments were using cameras. Though public protest of police violence was one of the key driving factors in the ramp-up of body camera use, studies have been mixed on whether they reduce police use of force, said Meagan Cahill of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). Half show officers with cameras tend to use force less often, but the other studies show no difference. Research has consistently found that complaints from citizens decrease when officers begin using them, Cahill said. The possible awareness of being filmed affects the behavior of both officers and the people they interact with.
The use of body cameras allows people to learn more about what happens in heated situations, said Chief David Zibolski of Fargo, N.D. Many police officers resisted cameras at first, but now are among the most supportive because they often reflect police doing the right thing, said Los Angeles Police Commander Steve Lurie. “I think it is absolutely accurate to say that in Los Angeles, this is now a favorite tool of our street cops,” he said. In San Antonio, the body-camera video appeared to play a key role in the murder case filed last week against three police officers in the fatal shooting of 46-year-old Melissa Perez, said PERF director Chuck Wexler. It showed exactly what officers did after Perez refused to come out of her apartment, and reflected her apparently suffering a mental health crisis. “A year ago, without video tape, it would not have had the same outcome,” he said. The three officers were suspended without pay and arrested on murder warrants last week. In many departments, body cameras are also being used to train officers on good policing. New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police keep a library of recorded interactions where officers defused situations well, a tool that’s invaluable for its immediacy and specificity.