Officer Discretion and the Choice to Record: Officer Attitudes Towards Body-Worn Camera Activation
43 Pages Posted: 20 Nov 2017 Last revised: 1 Mar 2018
Date Written: February 26, 2018
In recent years, questions about when police officers should activate (or not activate) their body-worn cameras during police-public encounters have risen into the foreground of public and scholarly debate. Understanding how officers perceive body-worn cameras and policies surrounding activation (and how they view these as impacting their ability to make discretionary choices while on the job) can provide greater insight into why, when, and how officers may attempt to exercise their discretion in the form of resistance or avoidance to body cameras, seen as technologies of accountability. In this Article, we examine officer attitudes about how much discretion they ought to have about when (or when not) to activate their cameras, what concerns they have about overbroad, overly punitive, or ambiguous activation policies, and their perceptions about how frequently cameras ought to be activated in specific circumstances (i.e., general police-public interactions, arrest situations, domestic violence calls, traffic stops, when taking statements from witnesses or victims, and when responding to calls inside homes and medical facilities). These findings are drawn from a multi-year and mixed-methods study of police officer adoption of body-worn cameras in two municipal police departments in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States from 2014 to 2018.
Keywords: policing, body cameras, body-worn cameras, police, qualitative research, camera activation, accountability
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