Providing Transparency And Accountability: The Importance Of Body Cameras According To A Criminology Professor
Body cameras were one of the ways a 2015 presidential task force said could strengthen trust between police and citizens.
George Mason University criminology professor Laurie Robinson co-chaired that task force and reviewed police tactics and equipment, including body cameras.
Find a full transcript below of Robinson's conversation with WHRV News. The interview has been edited for length.
Paul Bibeau (PB): Professor Robinson thanks very much for talking to us!
Laurie Robinson (LR): I’m happy to be here.
PB: In the recent shootings at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, an officer had a body worn camera that wasn’t turned on, and your task force dealt with body worn cameras. What’s the role of body cameras and how are they best used?
LR: At the time we issued our report in early 2015, body worn cameras were just coming into use at that time. We did not go into detail about how exactly -- when cameras should be turned on and turned off, or the detail of body worn cameras… but what we did say is that body worn cameras were very important in terms of providing and helping provide transparency and accountability.
PB: Your task force cited research that showed the cameras might reduce complaints. Could you explain how?
LR: Well, as a matter of fact since that time, there’s been a great deal of research that has been conducted related to body worn cameras, does show as a result of body worn cameras, which now, by the way, are in use by over 60% of police departments around the country -- that’s the latest figure that we have from research -- and that research does show that complaints of misconduct are down because of body worn cameras or in those jurisdictions. It’s not clear as to why that is. The research is specific in saying that’s not clear. It may be because people don’t complain if they know there’s a record of what’s going on. It may be because there’s a better relationship as a result. But it’s not exactly clear.
PB: Now the task force also said that there are downsides and complexities to the use of these cameras. What are those?
LR: Yes, some of that just goes to the practical side. We pointed out for example issues that a department has to look at relating to privacy. For example, if cameras are turned on, as they ordinarily would be, when an officer or officers go into a home when there is a domestic violence incident. There may be issues of privacy invasion relating to that domestic violence victim or children in the setting. And if there are public records laws in the state that require that that video then be, for example, immediately made available as a public document available to viewers. Issues relating to privacy for those family members need to be considered. Other issues go to the cost of storage, the cost of having lawyers review video, the cost of their time, and because the video needs to be used in court proceedings. So there are a number of those type of issues that jurisdictions have had to grapple with.
PB: Professor Laurie Robinson, thank you so much for talking to us.
LR: Thank you!