Study: Body Cameras Didn’t Change DC Officers’ Behavior

If one group of D.C. police officers has body cameras and another group doesn’t, do they behave differently? The results of a study released Friday say no.

The Metropolitan Police Department and applied scientists with the D.C. Office of the City Administrator measured the impact of body-worn cameras that 1,200 patrol officers and sergeants wore for about seven months across the city. That data was compared with a group of 1,200 officers without cameras.

“The body cameras were proven to have not fundamentally changed policing,” Kevin Donahue, the deputy mayor for public safety said.

The study looked at officers’ use of force, their productivity, how many tickets they issued and whether citizens filed more complaints.

“Body-worn cameras may have great utility in specific policing scenarios, but we cannot conclude from this experiment that they can be expected to produce large, department-wide improvements in outcomes,” the report says.

Michael Tobin, the director of the Office of Police Complaints, said the cameras have an effect the study doesn’t show.

“Just having the cameras there and having an outside, third-party witness at every interaction improves community trust,” he said.

A spokesman for the D.C. Fraternal Order of Police said the study shows that, by and large, officers are doing their jobs correctly, whether they’re wearing cameras or not.

The Office of Police Complaints is set to issue its own report soon that looks at the number of times that officers turned on the cameras late or not at all. That has happened in at least a third of the cases they’ve looked at. It’s a matter of training and getting used to the technology, the office said.

The police union spokesman it’s not clear how many officers have failed to correctly use their cameras. He said they always welcome more training, especially with new technology.

D.C. Council Member Charles Allen said the Council is aware of whether or not the cameras are being used correctly.
“I think our compliance rate’s good. There’s also discipline that takes place when an officer does not engage the camera the way they’re supposed to,” he said.

D.C. expanded its body-camera program before the study results were released. All officers are now set to get the cameras soon.

The impacts of the cameras will be studied again in the next six months.


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