Fact of the day: research suggests that for every dollar spent on bodycams for the police, communities receive about five dollars in benefit, mainly by avoiding the use of force and its associated costs.
Bodycams are an increasingly common tool in the police force and are used by many different types of law enforcement officers and frontline workers. Bodycams have many uses. They increase transparency, accountability, de-escalate potentially violent situations and improve confidence in frontline workers on the job. Bodycam video evidence can also be used as evidence that will stand up in court, ensuring both frontline workers and civilians are able handle incidents in accordance with the law. However, there still remains some uncertainty about the exact measured impact of bodycams on policing outcomes.
Bodycams reduce use of force and its associated costs
A large-scale study by the Becker Friedman Institute (University of Chicago) and a recent article in The Economist put the uncertainties about the exact effects of bodycams on US policing to rest. According to this study, body-worn cameras reduce the number of police misconduct complaints by 17%. In addition, evidence indicates a six-in-seven chance that body cameras reduce the number of use-of-force incidents by 10%.
Another interesting finding is that body-worn cameras are worth the money (financial barriers often prevent police departments from adopting a bodycam solution). For every dollar spent, society gets around five dollars back in benefit. Because there is less use of force, the associated costs (investigation time, multiple administrative costs and possible compensation to community members) also dwindle.
The baseline estimate for the benefit-cost ratio of bodycam solutions outlined in the Becker Friedman Institute study is 4.95. It is possible that up to one-quarter of the estimated benefits accrue to government budgets directly. From the perspective of government budgets, this suggests that a bodycam solution even pays for itself, making it a more cost-effective solution than simply hiring more police officers.
Bodycam solutions need continued evaluation
The analysis of the Becker Friedman Institute inevitably relies on an estimation of the effects of body worn camera solutions based on how departments in the US currently use them. It is worth remembering that those deployment practices may change over time (for instance if professional associations or the government push organisations to adopt more standardised BWC policies and practices.) New insights into how to get the most out of bodycam solutions can also lead to new types of qualitative impacts on society, so stay tuned for the latest updates.
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