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Body cameras help hold police accountable

Body cameras are effective in holding police accountable according to a new study by researchers at Stockton University, American University and Georgia State University.

The study of police complaints in Chicago found that body camera video decreased the number of investigations dismissed for insufficient evidence and increased the number of disciplinary actions against police officers. The working paper was recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

New Jersey is the sixth state in the country to have a law requiring police departments to outfit their officers with body-worn cameras. A 2014 study by the Justice Policy Center with the Urban Institute which found a 59% decline in use-of-force incidents among officers in the Rialto Police Department in California who wore cameras. Body Worn Camera report by Eugene P. Ramirez.

Stockton University Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Nusret Sahin, one of the lead authors on the study, said the results are valuable for New Jersey, where all police officers are now mandated to wear body cams. Legislation was introduced in June that would allow New Jersey police officers to review body-camera footage before writing up a report of an incident.

The study reviewed citizen compliant data from the Chicago Police Department and Civilian Office of Police Accountability filed between 2012-2020.

“We wanted to determine if video from the body-worn camera (BMC) affects the conclusion of the investigation, and whether bias against complainants based on race would be reduced,” Sahin said.

The findings indicate that BWCs led to a significant decrease in the dismissal of investigations due to insufficient evidence (“not sustained”) as well as a significant increase in disciplinary actions against police officers (“sustained” outcomes”) with sufficient evidence to sanction their misconduct.

The study also found that disparities in complaints across racial groups for the “unsustained” category fade away with the implementation of BWCs.

Sahin, who also trains police in procedural justice techniques, said the goal of his work is to improve relationships and trust between police and the community. He has worked with police in Atlantic City and Pleasantville.

“We have found that when a person understands the process, and believes it is fair, they are more likely to accept the results, even if it is not always in their favor.” Sahin said. “Our findings indicate that BWCs strengthen accountability if footage from these devices is utilized effectively in internal investigations.”

Sahin worked on the paper with Suat Cubukcu and Erdal Tekin at American University and Volkan Topalli at Georgia State University. 

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