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Police Camera Usage Is Up; Its Effectiveness Remains In Question

Camera usage by police departments has increased since the murder of George Floyd three years ago, but experts have mixed opinions on whether or not camera use helps community-police relations, reports Type Investigations in collaboration with Lee Enterprises. The news agencies reached out to more than 170 law enforcement agencies in the U.S., finding that 93 out of 142 departments that responded had both body and dashboard cameras for at least one of their members and vehicles. Seven departments had neither body cameras nor dash cameras. Yet, some departments that have cameras may not require their use, and experts said there are ways for police officers to get around body cameras. Barriers to camera use also include cost and sometimes opposition from police unions.

Mary Fan, author of the book “Camera Power: Proof, Policing, Privacy, and Audiovisual Big Data,” said increased camera usage stems at least in part from protests that followed the 2014 Missouri slaying of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teen. Law enforcement leaders and police reform advocates alike say camera use by police can increase transparency. As an accountability tool, the results of increased camera use have been mixed, said David Schultz, a professor of political science at Hamline University. “I guess, for people who were hoping that these bodycams would bring about some significant change in police behavior in the country, that should come as a disappointment,” he said. Yet Jessica Huff, a professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, found after looking at more than 900,000 police–civilian interactions in Phoenix from November 2015 through November 2018 that when body cameras were activated in Black neighborhoods, the odds of arrest decreased by nearly 40%.


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