New research shows majority of law enforcement agencies approve of body cameras

A first-of-its-kind study, by researchers from Florida Atlantic University and collaborators, measured law enforcement leadership attitudes toward police wearing body cameras. The study is published study in the current issue of the American Journal of Criminal Justice.

“While the general public might be enthusiastic about the potential benefits of police body-worn cameras, until this study, it was unknown how leadership in law enforcement felt about these cameras,” said John Ortiz Smykla, Ph.D., lead author, director and professor in FAU’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice within FAU’s College for Design and Social Inquiry, who collaborated with Vaughn J. Crichlow, Ph.D., assistant professor in FAU’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Matthew S. Crow, Ph.D., Department of Criminal Justice, University of West Florida, and Jamie A. Snyder, Ph.D., Department of Criminal Justice, University of West Florida. “We found the lack of empirical research on this subject to be very intriguing, and that’s what motivated us to pursue this important study.”

The study was conducted in Sunshine County, a large southern county with 27 local law enforcement agencies, a number of state and federal law enforcement agencies, and a population of approximately 1.3 million. Participants were in leadership positions such as chief, deputy, sheriff, major, colonel, and captain.
Twenty-nine items were used to measure their perceptions, and questions were divided into eight perceptual domains—officer behavior, officer effectiveness, evidentiary impact, privacy, safety, use of force, impact on citizens, and public/media interest.

Most of the departments that participated in the study were not currently using body-worn cameras, however, multiple departments were either planning on or considering using them. A survey in 2013 by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) of 500 law enforcement agencies throughout the United States showed that only 25 percent reported that they used body-worn cameras at that time.

Those who caution against the use of these cameras are concerned with a number of privacy issues for both police officers and citizens. Open records laws in many jurisdictions such as Florida, further compound this issue. Questions still persist as to who will have access to the video footage captured by the cameras and the policies and guidelines related to public release of videos. As of May 18, 10 states (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Vermont), enacted laws related to body-worn cameras, several of which directly address public disclosure and privacy issues.