Effect of Body-Worn Cameras on NY City Policing

The Cato Institute has released the research brief, Who Watches the Watchmen? Evidence of the Effect of Body‐​Worn Cameras on New York City Policing, based on a study published in the Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization. The authors note, “only one-third to one-half of the roughly 18,000 police departments in the United States” have body-worn camera (BWC) programs, many of which have not implemented them department-wide. Cost and varying evidence of the value of body-worn cameras have been contributing factors in departments’ decisions on whether to implement BWC programs.

The brief states that previous studies done on BWCs in police departments provide conflicting data on effectiveness, and various differences could potentially skew results. For example, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) conducted their own study before the full roll-out of their BWC program and only included a small percentage of officers. Smaller locations in nonurban areas that were previously studied do not necessarily experience the same types and amount of stops that are done in urban areas, and the time-periods of the studies were generally between 6 months to a year. Importantly, the authors highlight that “[i]n other studies, officers self-selected into participation, potentially biasing results.”

NYPD is one of only a few police departments “in which every patrol officer was assigned a camera, alleviating concerns about biased results from officers self-selecting use of BWCs,” and which is why it was chosen for this much needed, comprehensive study that evaluated three years of data up to December of 2019. Read the full brief to discover more about the approach of the study and its notable findings.

For additional information, check out HSDL’s Focus topics on Police Reform, Policing Protests or read other reports from the Cato Institute.

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