Body Worn Cameras Don’t Prevent Police Violence

It’s been proven that traffic stops are the deadliest encounters between civilians and police officers, so it should have come as no surprise when Tyre Nichols was murdered by Memphis Police after being pulled over for alleged reckless driving. What should cause even greater alarm is that the police officers knew that their body-worn cameras (BWCs) were on, a fact which did not deter them from using excessive force.

Technology alone is not enough to prevent brutality. However, these violent incidents highlight the universal problem that there are no requirements for authorities to use BWCs, nor a standardized set of policies and recommendations for the type of technologies used in police departments. This discrepancy leaves room for corruption in a nation wracked with police violence. To bring corrupt officers to justice, we need to update our BWCs technology and usage standards.

Of the many tactics that have been used to decrease police violence over the years, none has been as touted as BWCs. Within agencies where the technology is in use, BWCs have managed to do this, sometimes highlightingsystematic issues within police departments. But this is not the norm. Studies have shown that police departments are analyzing less than 1% of BWCs footage. Without consistent monitoring and set standards of equipment and practice, departments will be less able to predict and govern their officers, and police brutality will continue unchecked.

Where BWCs are employed, the lack of standardization leaves agencies free to cut corners and purchase cheap or ineffective equipment. BWCs vary by characteristics, such as camera size and playback capacity, but nothing presents more of a problem than selective recording capabilities which enable officers and agencies to misrepresent events. There are multiple incidents of police assuming BWCs have been turned off, only to carry out illegal acts for personal gain, and worse, planting evidence to incriminate innocent people, but thanks to BWCs, they were brought to justice.

Because police departments can choose various types of BWCs based on their budget and needs, officers are often left with too much control over what information they record. At the very least, we need manufacturing policies that would standardize the equipment, as well as cohesive requirements for what BWCs police departments must use to equip their staff.

In 2016, The Brennan Institute conducted a study of state BWCs policies across the nation, exposing several critical gaps. While agencies typically structure policy around what is deemed appropriate for their specific community, nineteen states and Washington, D.C., have proposed statewide policies to address discrepancies and prevent bias.

Beyond standardizing BWC equipment and practice guidelines, agencies should be using footage to improve officer training as well. Cutting-edge technologies could help to standardize behavioral tracking systems. Truelo, an AI audio monitoring system, creates data points from BWC footage by analyzing speech between civilians and officers. The system flags the officer’s speech as professional or a risk, with the risk often escalating into police violence. Afterwards, the officer is given a score which is sent to leadership.

States such as Alabama, Illinois, and Pennsylvania started using the software in 2022 and to this point have noticed little to no officers being flagged for negative behavior. Although officers can still use selective recording, this could potentially flag an officer who limits their use of BWC now that they know their actions are being analyzed thus increasing the amount of time their camera is on.

It’s clear that BWCs aren’t enough anymore to prevent the use of excessive force. It’s time to start thinking about the future of BWCs and how we can monitor and flag aggressive police before another life is lost.

Finesse Moreno-Rivera is an expert in Criminal Justice Reform and research analysis. Finesse has worked with federal and state institutions such as the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Opinions are my own and not the views of my employer.