Body cameras have been a hotly debated topic over the years, both from the law enforcement officers who are forced to wear them and from the members of the communities they’ve dedicated themselves to serving and protecting. Some argue that body cameras are an absolute necessity in terms of improving and maintaining accountability. Others argue that it’s little more than a “Big Brother” tactic, taking an already difficult job and making it even worse during a time where nobody can afford for that to happen. Now, a study conducted by researchers at the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University looks to put all of that controversy to rest.Hidden Body Camera

The study itself was published in Criminology & Public Policy, a respected legal journal, and is considered to be one of the largest and most comprehensive examinations of the impact of body cameras to date. The results are likely to be something of a surprise for people on both sides of this argument.

The Case For (and Against) Body Cameras

While research confirmed that most people THINK body cameras are an effective means of changing officer behavior for the better, the reality isn’t quite that clear. In fact, in most law enforcement agencies that researchers took a look at, the cameras were not responsible for any “consistent or significant effect on officer behavior or citizen opinion of the police.”

In other words, body cameras are not necessarily the “silver bullet” toward improving police accountability that a lot of us probably thought they were. In the best-case scenario, they need to be seen for exactly what they are: one small step in a much more expansive series of reforms aimed at addressing one of society’s biggest issues of the modern era.

The study also takes things one step further, saying that a camera deployment will ultimately only be as successful as the department that chooses to embrace it. If there’s a willingness on behalf of officers to change, body cameras may very well be a necessary tipping point. If there isn’t, there won’t be it truly doesn’t get much more straightforward than that.

Researchers also indicated that a lot of the support for body cameras came during the early days of these initiatives around the country. Indeed, this may be part of the reason why the results of this study are so shocking. People were so quick to celebrate the very idea of body cameras that they did so before there was any type of evidence showing that they actually worked. Despite that, roughly 95% of police agencies in major US cities had already implemented body camera programs as of 2016.

Not only do body cameras not necessarily help a situation, but they may also actually make things worse in certain areas as far as public opinion is concerned. Researchers wrote that: “[Body cameras] might exacerbate an already challenged relationship between citizens and the police, especially if citizens expect cameras to be used to increase police accountability and transparency, but officers primarily use them to increase the accountability of citizens.”

It’s equally important to note that there were a few surprising findings on the other side of this issue, too. Back when body cameras were initially being debated, many people argued that they would fuel “a reduction in policing activity” or that they would somehow harm officer motivation in certain areas where they already feel like they’re fighting an uphill battle. That, too, isn’t really true. If anything, the most shocking finding is that body cameras have yet to really move the needle at all, so to speak.

Instead of celebrating the body-worn camera itself, it seems that what people were really celebrating was a much-needed increase in law enforcement accountability. That’s still as true today as it was when the first body cameras made their debut across the country. It’s just that those looking for a “one size fits all” solution to what is a genuinely pressing concern for many people will likely have to keep searching.