Accountability or Efficiency? Body-Worn Cameras as Replicative Technology

Published date01 September 2019
Date01 September 2019
Subject MatterArticles
CJR856079 356..368 Article
Criminal Justice Review
2019, Vol. 44(3) 356-368
Accountability or Efficiency?
ª 2019 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
Body-Worn Cameras
DOI: 10.1177/0734016819856079
as Replicative Technology
Wendy M. Koslicki1
Body-worn cameras (BWCs) have been implemented and studied at an unprecedented rate since
their emergence in the mid-2000s, largely due to their touted benefits of increasing police
accountability. As current empirical research is largely inconclusive regarding BWC effects on police
organizational change, the present study approaches the question of whether BWCs will funda-
mentally change occupational and organizational police culture by applying the theories of Manning’s
and Chan’s interpretation of Bourdieu regarding police culture and technology. The findings of the
theoretical application conclude that BWCs will likely become replicative technology, meaning that
their primary effects will be to increase the efficiency of current police tactics rather than change the
fundamental practices and values of policing. BWCs may also become symbolic in that their use may
represent increased accountability and legitimacy while the core of police culture remains largely
unchanged. Due to the limits of technology in achieving greater police accountability, police prac-
titioners and scholars are encouraged to refocus on the fundamental processes of recruiting,
selection, hiring, and training, and ways to improve these practices to encourage a culture of greater
body-worn cameras, police accountability, police culture, police technology
In light of increasing media attention surrounding recent high-profile incidents of police misconduct
and the shooting deaths of unarmed men of color, policing accountability—as well as the technol-
ogies that may enhance accountability—has become a significant subject of societal conversation
and policy focus across the United States and abroad (Grewal, 2015). Indeed, since their emergence
in the mid-2000s, the research and adoption of body-worn cameras (BWCs) across departments in
the United States, the United Kingdom, and other nations has exploded due to their perceived
accountability benefits (Babin et al., 2017; Lum, Stoltz, Koper, & Scherer, 2019). In the United
1 Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Ball State University, Muncie, IN, USA
Corresponding Author:
Wendy M. Koslicki, Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Ball State University, North Quad 278, Muncie, IN
47306, USA.

States in particular, the assumption that BWCs would increase accountability and transparency in an
age of high-profile cases of police misuse of force led to former U.S. President Obama’s creation of
The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing in 2015. Accompanying the task force was the
allocation of US$20 million in grant money to fund BWC pilot programs in 2015 (Bureau of Justice
Assistance, 2015). More recently under the Trump administration, this figure has expanded to
US$58 million (Bureau of Justice Assistance, 2017).
The President’s Task Force (2015), stakeholders, and scholars have recognized that BWCs are
not a panacea or “silver bullet” for all of the relational problems between the police and the public
(Makin, 2017). However, the bourgeoning popularity of the device, the amount of U.S. grant money
given in support of BWC implementation across U.S. law enforcement agencies, and largely pos-
itive public, stakeholder, and academic perceptions of BWCs as accountability tools communicate
an expectation that this innovative device will achieve increased transparency, accountability, and
consequently, legitimacy to the police institution (Ariel et al., 2017a; Crow, Snyder, Chrichlow, &
Smykla, 2017; Sousa, Miethe, & Sakiyama, 2018; Todak, Gaub, & White, 2018). Recent studies
have, however, shifted the discussion surrounding BWCs to question whether the touted
“professionalization effect” of BWCs will always come as a result of their implementation (Ripley
& Williams, 2017; Yokum, Ravishankar, & Coppock, 2017). As the dialogue surrounding the device
continues to evolve, and is currently inconclusive about their long-term effects (Lum et al., 2019), a
theoretical examination of BWCs is beneficial to assess the device’s potential future in policing.
The purpose of this article, then, is to theoretically examine the validity of these assumptions
through two frameworks of police organizational culture and technology, namely, that of Chan’s
(2004) interpretation of Bourdieu and Manning. Although the Chan/Bourdieu (2004) framework
assumes that change in the police institution will occur through technology, the present study applies
Manning’s (2008) framework to argue that new accountability technology may become symbolic
and will serve to further replicate—not fundamentally change—policing routines. Additionally, the
study demonstrates how these two ostensibly opposed theoretical frameworks may coincide in the
event of a negative catalyst event surrounding BWCs. Upon expanding this theoretical argument, a
discussion will follow regarding the argument’s practical applications as well as policy implications
that police practitioners and scholars—both in the United States and abroad—should pursue as
avenues to achieve greater police accountability than technology can provide. It is first necessary,
however, to provide a more detailed background regarding what is currently known about the effects
and use of BWCs.
BWCs: Background and Expectations
The use and research of BWCs has exploded in the past decade, receiving a significant amount of
scholarly, political, and public attention due to their anticipated benefits in improving police
accountability (Lum et al., 2019). Although BWCs themselves are relatively recent in their creation,
image technology—such as photographs and videos—has long been used by journalists and mem-
bers of the general public to capture and share instances of police misconduct and abuse of force
(Ericson, 1995; Goldsmith, 2010). Proliferation of these images, particularly as technological
advancements granted members of the public more access to inexpensive and ubiquitous image
technology, led to widespread attention directed toward police misconduct, beginning in the 1960s
and increasing rapidly with new technological advancements (Ericson, 1995; Goldsmith, 2010;
Makin, 2017).
Law enforcement agencies originally responded to this increased scrutiny by improving policies
regarding officer recruitment, selection, training, and evaluation; however, as media images of

Criminal Justice Review 44(3)
police misconduct multiplied and the police institution faced societal pressures for further action,
these basic accountability methods began to be prioritized less as emerging accountability technol-
ogy (such as in-vehicle cameras) for the police became popular (Makin, 2017; Manning, 1997). The
emergence of BWCs appeared to follow this trend, leading to large-scale efforts to adopt and
implement the device. Although it is difficult to obtain accurate statistics on the prevalence of
BWCs used across the world’s law enforcement agencies to date, the data that exist reveal a
considerable growth of their use by police departments since 2013, largely as a response to public
scrutiny regarding high-profile misconduct cases such as that of Eric Garner (Babin et al., 2017;
Lum et al., 2019). Specific to the United States, approximately 45% of local law enforcement
agencies surveyed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported currently using at least one BWC
as of 2016 (Hyland, 2018).
A significant additional factor contributing to the rise of BWCs and their popularity (mainly to
policy makers, police executives, and legal experts) was a study done in Rialto, CA, on the efficacy
of cameras in reducing officer use of force incidents and citizens’ complaints against officers (a 59%
and 87.7% reduction, respectively, following a year; Ariel, Farrar, & Sutherland, 2014). These
results were foundational to The President’s Task Force’s (2015) advocacy for BWCs as an account-
ability tool, and this study and its findings inspired further randomized and nonrandomized con-
trolled trials assessing BWC effects (Ramirez, 2014; White, 2014). The Rialto study’s outcomes
have also been emphasized as a way to decrease police officer and department liability, which
significantly contributed to the popularity of BWCs to police executives and their buy-in for this
technology (Ramirez, 2014).
While many randomized and nonrandomized controlled trials (both in the United States and
international research sites) found BWCs to reduce officer use of force, civilian complaints, and
other outcomes, others found mixed effects (see Babin et al., 2017; Lum et al., 2019), with Ariel
and colleagues (2017b) proposing that officers’ adherence to camera activation policies affects the
efficacy of BWCs in deterring officer misuse of force, thus potentially explaining the variance in
previous studies’ findings. A later randomized controlled trial of the Washington DC Metropolitan
Police Department, however, found no statistically significant effects of BWCs on officer behavior
across the department (Yokum et al., 2017), instigating a shift in public discourse. While the
previous focus was of accountability and transparency, more recent media articles appear to recog-
nize the evidentiary benefits and costs of the device...

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