Usefulness of Body-Worn Cameras in Law Enforcement

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Currently, police officers are increasingly required to have body-worn cameras or dash cameras installed in their vehicles. A number of law enforcement agencies have already adopted or are currently in the process of acquiring such cameras. The idea is not a totally new concept since in the 1980s, police officers had cameras installed in their vehicles. Notably, it is the body-worn cameras that introduce a new and complex consideration. In most scenarios, body-worn cameras are attached on an officer’s eyeglasses, shoulder or chest. The body-worn cameras have extended coverage compared to dash cameras since they are capable of recording all activities of a police offers including personal contact with family, friends and acquaintances both on foot and in vehicle. Similar to other technologies, use of body-worn and dash camera creates new responsibilities and powers in Law enforcement. The paper explores the impact of body and dash camera in law enforcement.

Cams usefulness to both civilians and law enforcement officers

Use of cameras by police officers allows law enforcement to record live recording and manage evidence thus allowing greater transparency between the police and citizens. Generally, over 30 states including the District of Columbia have come up with legislation concerning body-worn cameras. The first phase of legislation regarding use of police body-worn and dash cameras began in 2014 where commissions were formed to conduct a pilot and thorough evaluation of police cameras. Their recommendations were submitted to the government and other relevant authorities. The second phase commenced in 2016, where law makers decided on policy requirements, access to camera footage and allocation of grants for purchase of the techno logy (Ansari 17). However, policies concerning use of the police cameras are yet to be fully deployed and operational. In a few years, it is expected that the laws will be fully operational.

            Recording of police-civilian video footage raises police accountability and encourages positive behavior. Use of dash and body cameras by police is both a challenge and opportunity. However, it is more of an opportunity in reducing number of police misconduct cases. Presently, the NYS Civilian Complaint Review Board deals with more than 5,000 cases of police misconduct annually. Amongst various types of evidence reviewed by investigators of alleged misconduct cases, live video footage from eyewitnesses’ cell devices and CCTVs are usually the most critical. Michael and Fradella (1579) noted that through such recordings that board makes the most determinations compared to alleged misconduct cases that do not have videos. However, majority of the footage presented is obtained from CCTV and civilian-recorded video footages. Thus, use of dash and body camera by law enforcement agencies adds on to the existing pool of video footage that can be deployed to determine police misconduct cases. Positive effects linked to police cameras are already visible as observed in Jordan Edwards killing by a police officer, an incident that occurred in Balch Springs, Texas. According to video footage, the police officer involved was recorded shooting the 15-year-old Jordan Edwards. The body cam on the police officer accurately showed the actual events that led to the teenager’s killing. The footage revealed that the officer was at fault leading to his subsequent firing and prosecution for murder charges (Wiley 1). Thus, use of police body-worn cameras assists in determination of alleged police misconduct cases.  

            Use of police body-worn cameras and dash cameras was prompted by the several advantages. First, the cameras enhance safety of police since the officers are more aware of their actions and likely to be careful while approaching a particular situation. Second, use of the cameras reduces police department liability. Police officers can use the cameras to film entire confrontational situation thus avoiding potential lawsuits. Third, according to Romig (2) the cameras create transparency since it possible to show the public events that led to a particular situation. Conviction rates are likely to improve since the cameras footage provides an additional piece of evidence. Last, the cameras improve quality of police training. For instance, reviews of video footage help officers work on their previous mistakes.

            In a study analyzing public perception about the use of dash and body worn cameras (BWCs) by law enforcement officers, it was established that most people support their use. A report published by the University of West Florida in collaboration with the Florida Atlantic University revealed that 87% of the public support the use BWCs and 70% believe that their use will improve police-citizen encounters (Florida Atlantic University 4). Numerous individuals surveyed agreed that BWCs will increase quality of evidence, improve police legitimacy, streamline both citizens’ and officers’ behavior, safety of residents and the police (Florida Atlantic University 5). Most respondents collectively agreed that police officers are less likely to result to use of excessive force when dealing with people. Therefore, the public strongly believes that use of cameras by police would improve interactions between police and the public and raise state of law enforcement in the community. 

Primary obstacles

Money and storage serve as the two major obstacles to implementation of dash and body-worn cameras. Cost of purchasing one camera is estimated to be between $400 and $1,000. However, a camera with the best image quality, good sound recording and tamper-proof goes for $1,000. In a police department consisting of about 200 officers, cost of purchasing the body worn cameras for the entire department would be $200,000 (Kotowski 1). The figure does not factor in replacement and maintenance costs. Storage of video footage is also a major challenge. The body-worn cameras can collect video footage in 720p or 1080p resolution. 1080p footage consumes twice as much space as 720p. According to current legislation, deputies are required to download video footage ate the end of every shift. The video footage is stored in the server for a period not exceeding 13 months. Editing of the footage is not allowed, thus entire videos, from the beginning to the end are stored and can be retrieved when needed (Jessica and Lynn 11). Presently, the estimated cost of storing video footage of a single camera stands at $100 per month. If there are 200 cameras, the cost translates to $20,000 per month and $240,000 per year. Hence, the combined cost of purchasing and acquiring storage space for body-worn cameras in a police department comprising of 200 officers in a single year is about $440,000 (Jason 3). The cost increases even further when the expense of dash cameras are factored into the calculations. Therefore, colossal sums are required to obtain and operate the police dash and body cameras.

In a way, police officers feel as though they are under microscope when cameras are on. Having the camera installed on them is an additional burden to the already numerous responsibilities they have. Hence, a number of officers strongly feel that it is a cumbersome requirement (Koloff 13). Presently, no reseach has studied the impact of cameras on police officers themselves. The level of burnout experienced by police officers is higher compared to other professions (Ian and Mastracci 16). The other issue concerns privacy and accountability on civilians. When officers interact with civilians, presence of cameras on their bodies is likely to result to evasive civilians intimidated by the cameras. The live recordings might disclose the whereabouts or private life of an individual that could possibly lead to embarrassment when placed in public domain.  As much as the footage prevents police misconduct, it also exposes private life to the public (Kyle 479). Therefore, use of police cameras increases police burnout and infringes on the personal lives of citizens thus exposing them to police or public scrutiny.


The study has determined that use of police dash and body-worn cameras is both a challenge and opportunity. The list of opportunities is endless. For instance, their legislation allows for recording and management of evidence leading to better transparency between citizens and the police. Collection of police video footage assists in determination of police misconduct cases. Other advantages include better behavior awareness by police, reduced law enforcement liability, high police transparency, an increase in conviction rate and an improvement of quality of police training. Over 80% of the public supports use of the cameras since they limit excessive use of force by law enforcers and improves overall safety of police and citizens. Considering obstacles to implementation of dash and body-worn cameras, money and storage of video footage were the most problematic. Notably, it is expensive to purchase the cameras and acquire storage every officer in the country. As number of privacy concerns were also raised by police and public. For instance, police argue that it increases level of burnout since officers seem to be working under a microscope that records their every move. Further, a number of citizens argue that the cameras might disclose their whereabouts and private affairs thus exposing them to possible embarrassment in eyes of the police or public.    

Work Cited

Abbott, Koloff. Why a limited view of shooting? Many police departments don't have dash or body cams. 21 Jul 2017. .

Adams, Ian, and Sharon Mastracci. "Police Body-Worn Cameras: Effects on Officers’ Burnout and Perceived Organizational Support."Police Quarterly (2018): 1098611118783987.

Chapman, Jessica and Jaimie Lynn. Becoming the Camera: Body worn video and shifting expectations of police work. Diss. Carleton University, 2016.

Esmael, Ansari. History of Body-Worn Camera Legislation. 17 Jan 2018. 26 Nov 2018. .

Florida Atlantic University. Study reveals public perception of police and body-worn cameras. 26 Jan 2017. .

Hilary, Romig. 5 reasons why a police department needs an in-car video system. 3 Jan 2018. 26 Nov 2018. .

Jason, Kotowski. Money, Storage Primary Obstacles in Police Body Camera Implementation. 8 March 2016. 26 Nov 2018. .

Maya, Wiley. Body Cameras Help Everyone — Including the Police. 9 May 2017. 26 Nov 2018. .

Maury, Kyle. "Police body-worn camera policy: Balancing the tension between privacy and      public access in state laws."Notre Dame L. Rev. 92 (2016): 479.

White, Michael, and Henry Fradella. "The Intersection of Law, Policy, and Police Body            Worn Cameras: An Exploration of Critical Issues."NCL Rev. 96 (2017): 1579.

December 12, 2023




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