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What (We Think) We Know About Body CamsCanadian research is needed to examine how officers operate body worn camerasBy Dr. Ajay Sandhu and Dr. Sara K. Thompson, Ryerson UniversityIn body-worn camera footage released in early 2021, viewers can watch Brian Mock, a 42-year-old man from Minnesota, aggressively shoving a police officer to the ground. After a brief pause, Mock proceeds to violently kick the grounded officer. Mock participated in the now-infamous attack on the United States Capitol, which featured tense and sometimes violent clashes between police officers and supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump. In a second video, Mock, who wore a hoodie and a green hat with an American flag symbol stitched into it, can be seen shoving another officer to the ground before a larger crowd of protestors crash against a line of officers wearing riot gear. Mock, who had bragged about “beating up cops” on his social media account, was eventually arrested for his actions during the U.S. Capitol attacks.1 The Mock case is one of many examples of body-worn cameras (BWCs) being used to observe the gritty realities of police work. By allowing for detailed observations of police-citizen interactions, BWCs create new opportunities to document and assess police work and to collect and store evidence of crime. Proponents of the technology argue that BWCs hold the potential to deter police misconduct, deliver improved police accountability and contribute to officer safety by documenting violence against police officers, as in the BrianMock case (Malm, 2019; Scheindlin & Manning, 2015). In recent years, such arguments have prompted several large Canadian police services to trial or expand their trial of BWCs.1 https://www.npr. org/2021/06/23/1009650274/ new-body-camera-footage-shows-the-violence-against-police-during-the-capitol-rioVideo link - please adjust your volume Though the optimism surrounding BWCs is not without substance, research examining the larger impact of BWCs is mixed and, as such, general conclusions about the technology’s potential contributions to police accountability and officer safety remain uncertain. Large gaps in the knowledge base remain, including unanswered questions about the operation of BWCs (Lum et al., 2020). Little is known, for example, about how officers sometimes make discretionary decisions about when BWCs will be turned on and where the lens will be aimed. Such questions are central to determining what BWCs will record, what the footage will reveal and how BWCs may influence police-citizen interactions.Still from body-worn-camera footage released by the U.S. Department of Justice of Brian Mock pushing down a Capitol Police officer.Photo credit: US Department of JusticeWhat (We Think) We Know About BWCsBWCs are audio-video-recording technologies which are attached to a police officer’s body and used to film police work. The Axon Body 2, North American law enforcement’s preferred camera (according to the Axon Enterprise website),2 is an example of the technologically advanced BWC. Debates surrounding the BWC are partly grounded in a realization that the technology is not simply an audiovideo recording device. Rather, it represents a significant change to the police officer’s experience and adds yet another lens to the large mixture of cameras that monitor police officers on the job. Police officers are regularly and repeatedly video recorded by surveillance cameras, dashboard cameras, smartphone cameras, and now, BWCs – rendering them among the most closely monitored subjects in contemporary society (Haggerty & Sandhu, 2014; Sandhu & Haggerty, 2017). In this climate of increased transparency, BWCs are just one of a proliferation of recording technologies that have prompted large-scale changes to the nature of police work (Goldsmith, 2010). The implications of these changes are yet to be fully understood.POLICE OFFICERS ARE REGULARLY AND REPEATEDLY VIDEO RECORDED BY SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS, DASHBOARD CAMERAS, SMARTPHONE CAMERAS, AND NOW, BWCS – RENDERING THEM AMONG THE MOST CLOSELY MONITORED SUBJECTS IN CONTEMPORARY SOCIETY. Proponents of the BWC argue that its outcomes are largely positive. It can be used to encourage safer officer-citizen interactions, collect video evidence of a crime, record training videos and create new opportunities to review police work with the goal of improving police accountability and, by extension, increasing public trust. Given these upsides, it is unsurprising that the BWC has been trialled across major Canadian cities. However, Canada’s adoption of BWCs has been cautious compared to other large Western nations. Most notably, the United States has acquired and deployed the technology in nearly half of all general-purpose law enforcement agencies (Bud, 2016; White & Malm, 2020). This relative caution on the part of Canadian police services is likely due to concerns about the high costs of BWC video storage, concerns about maintaining an appropriate balance between BWC use and privacy rights and (as will be the focus of this article) a general lack of research confirming theories about the impacts BWCs may have on police work (Cubitt et al., 2017; Lum et al., 2020; Lum et al., 2019). Understanding the impacts of BWCs requires studies examining several interrelated topics. These include how officers operate the technology, if organizational policy and training protocols effectively guide officers’ use of the technology and how the use of BWCs is related to changes in police work, such as arrest rates and use of force rates. Currently, the research literature tends to focus on the latter: the relationship between the use of BWCs, reductions in the use of force, and reductions in complaints (Lum et al., 2020; Lum et al., 2019). The most optimistic commentators have framed BWCs as a “cure-all” to problems of police brutality and high rates of complaints against police (Malm, 2019; White & Malm, 2020). Many of these commentators reference a now-famous study conducted with the Rialto Police Department, which concluded that the use of BWCs was correlated with a significant drop in use of force rates and complaint rates. The Rialto study made headlines throughout North America, significantly increasing the hype surrounding BWCs (Schneider, 2018). To confirm the Rialto study’s findings, additional randomized control studies have been conducted across North America. While some studies have found that BWC use can indeed reduce use of force and complaint rates (Ariel et al., 2015; Groff et al., 2019; Henstock & Ariel, 2017), other studies have instead shown little to no change in use of force rates, and still other studies have found an increase in use of force rates among BWC-equipped officers (Ariel et al., 2016; Lum et al., 2020; Lum et al., 2019). Further, even those studies that have found a reduction in use of force and complaint rates have come to different and sometimes conflicting conclusions about how. For example, some scholars interpret research showing a decrease in complaint rates as evidence that BWCequipped officers do better work and are therefore less likely to receive a complaint. Alternatively, others interpret these findings as evidence that BWC-equipped officers, knowing that their work will be subject to visual scrutiny, may be less likely to engage in aspects of police work if that work is likely to elicit complaints (Rowe et al., 2018; Wallace et al., 2018). If research confirms the latter interpretation, lower complaint rates (or use of force rates) may be evidence of a so-called “de-policing” effect, wherein BWCs lead to “camera-induced passivity” on the part of some officers (Adams & Mastracci, 2019; Mac Donald, 2017; Wallace et al., 2018).What We Don’t Know About BWCsWhen looking for explanations for different and sometimes contradictory research findings, many scholars point to variances in the rate and the quality of BWC use among officers (Ariel, 2016). This is not surprising given that most BWCs rely on “manual activation,” where the individual officer ultimately decides when the BWC will be activated, where it will be aimed and what it will record (Boivin et al., 2021; Roy, 2014; Zamoff, 2019). To guide the effective and appropriate use of BWCs in a broader context of dynamic and often highly discretionary decision-making, police services have developed training programs and operational policies to direct BWC use. However, research on activation compliance (when a BWC is turned on or off) shows that despite these programs and policies, BWC use can differ significantly from officer to officer (Ariel, 2016; Boivin et al., 2021; Lawrence et al., 2019). For example, some studies have shown that activation compliance rates can vary from 0 per cent use to 100 per cent use (Lawrence et al., 2019). Many of these studies have also found that activation compliance can depend on the type of police work being conducted. Officers in specialized units, for example, may use BWCs in different ways and at different rates than officers conducting regular street patrols (Gaub et al., 2020). The same studies have shown that BWC use can increase over time as officers become accustomed to activating the camera (Lawrence et al., 2019). Other studies have shown that BWC activation can decrease over time, perhaps as officers become less enthusiastic about the technology and as training knowledge fades (Boivin et al., 2021). These nuanced differences may explain why the impact of BWCs on use of force and compliance rates differ across studies and why more consistent conclusions about the impact of BWCs have yet to be reached.Our Body-Worn Camera ResearchOur research study is premised on the realization that, to understand the impact of BWCs on police work, the complex, discretionary decisions made by the officers operating the cameras must be examined. These decisions include not only if/when to turn the camera on, but also decisions about how BWCs are aimed and how footage is collected. We recognize that BWCs do not produce objective or complete accounts of police-citizen interactions. Rather, the technologies favour the perspective of the officers wearing them (McKay & Lee, 2019), as the technology literally records from an officer’s point of view (Koslicki, 2019). Accordingly, our research examines not only the decision to turn the BWC on, but also related decisions about where to stand while recording, from what angle to record, what elements of a police-citizen interaction will be recorded, as well as decisions about when a BWC will be turned off. Such decisions will influence what video footage is ultimately created and how the footage will be used to understand a particular police-citizen interaction (Miranda, 2021). By shining light onto these uncertainties, our study will not only reveal how BWCs are operated by Canadian police officers (the bulk of the literature discussed above is grounded in the U.S. context), but will also allow for the advancement of training programs and policies that can better guide decisions about how police officers should use BWCs to produce the most accurate and complete footage of their work (Marx, 2020). Given our officer-centric approach, our study relies on interviews with 50 BWC-equipped officers and 250 hours of observational ride-alongs with the largest municipal police service in Canada. Our findings will reveal how officers use their BWCs and how effectively training and policy guide their use. Our interview questions focus not only on activation compliance but also on related decisions such as how to move with the camera to maintain a clear line of sight and how to avoid obstructing the camera’s lens. We are also asking officers about their experiences with and thoughts about BWC training and policy, with an eye toward highlighting “what works” and areas for improvement. We expect that our findings will make significant contributions to our understanding of how BWCs are operated and, accordingly, their impact on police experiences, police accountability and officer safety. This knowledge can help us to understand the large-scale changes in policing as the institution accustoms to its “new visibility” (Goldsmith, 2010). Our research is also expected to make significant contributions to public knowledge about BWCs by helping clarify our understandings of the practicalities of their operation. Finally, it will make contributions to police services themselves by offering information about how BWC training can be updated to improve activation/compliance and better guide the operation of BWCs.Dr. Ajay Sandhu and Dr. Sara K. Thompson are with the Department of Criminology, Ryerson University. They welcome expressions of interest in their work by contacting them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com .Footnotes1https://www.npr. org/2021/06/23/1009650274/ new-body-camera-footage-shows-the-violence-against-police-during-the-capitol-rio https://www.npr. org/2021/06/23/1009650274/ new-body-camera-footage-shows-the-violence-against-police-during-the-capitol-rio 2Axon.com: https://www.axon.com/ products/axon-body-2ReferencesAdams, I., & Mastracci, S. (2019). Police bodyworn cameras: Effects on officers’ burnout and perceived organizational support. Police quarterly, 22(1), 5-30.Ariel, B. (2016). The puzzle of police body cams. IEEE Spectrum, 53(7), 32-37.Ariel, B., Farrar, W. A., & Sutherland, A. (2015). The effect of police body-worn cameras on use of force and citizens’ complaints against the police: A randomized controlled trial. 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