Police body cams worn by 2,600 officers in the nation’s capital did not affect citizen complaints or the use of force by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), according to a new study.
“We found essentially that we could not detect any statistically significant effect of the body-worn cameras,” according to Anita Ravishankar, an MPD researcher at a city government group named Lab @ DC.
To conduct the study, researchers identified officers across the seven metro police that fit a specific criteria: the officer had to have active, full duty administrative status without a scheduled leave of absence during the study; the officer had to hold a rank of sergeant or below; and the officer had to be assigned to patrol duties in a patrol district or to a non-administrative role at a police station. From there, officers were split into control (no body cams) and treatment groups. “Our sample consisted of 2,224 MPD members, with 1,035 members assigned to the control group, and 1,189 members assigned to the treatment group,” the study notes.
The study (PDF) then measured four outcome factors: reported uses of force, civilian complaints, policing activities (which includes tickets, warnings, arrests, etc.), and judicial outcomes, specifically whether MPD arrest charges led to prosecutions.
DC Police Chief Peter Newsham told NPR that everybody was expecting a different conclusion about the agency’s $ 5.1 million program. “I think we’re surprised by the result. I think a lot of people were suggesting that the body-worn cameras would change behavior. There was no indication that the cameras changed behavior at all.”