Assessing the Impact of Police Body-Worn Cameras on Arresting, Prosecuting, and Convicting Suspects of Intimate Partner Violence

Date01 September 2016
Published date01 September 2016
Subject MatterArticles
untitled Article
Police Quarterly
2016, Vol. 19(3) 303–325
Assessing the Impact
! The Author(s) 2016
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of Police Body-Worn
DOI: 10.1177/1098611116652850
Cameras on Arresting,
Prosecuting, and
Convicting Suspects
of Intimate
Partner Violence
Weston J. Morrow1, Charles M. Katz2,
and David E. Choate2
The perceived benefits that generally accompany body-worn cameras (BWCs)
include the ability to increase transparency and police legitimacy, improve behavior
among both police officers and citizens, and reduce citizen complaints and police use
of force. Less established in the literature, however, is the value of BWCs to aid in
the arrest, prosecution, and conviction of intimate partner violence (IPV) offenders.
We attempt to fill that void by examining the effect of pre- and post-camera
deployment on a number of outcomes related to arrest, prosecution, and conviction.
The findings provide initial evidence for the utility of BWCs in IPV cases. When
compared with posttest non-camera cases, posttest camera cases were more
likely to result in an arrest, have charges filed, have cases furthered, result in a
guilty plea, and result in a guilty verdict at trial. These results have several implications
for policing, prosecuting, and convicting IPV cases.
1Department of Criminal Justice, University of Nevada, Reno, NV, USA
2Center for Violence Prevention & Community Safety, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Arizona
State University, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Corresponding Author:
Charles M. Katz, Center for Violence Prevention & Community Safety, School of Criminology and
Criminal Justice, Arizona State University, 411N. Central Avenue Ste. 620, Phoenix, Arizona
85004-0685, USA.

Police Quarterly 19(3)
body-worn camera, intimate partner violence, arrest, prosecution, conviction
Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a public health issue that negatively impacts
millions of individuals in the United States each year. Breiding et al. (2014)
estimated that approximately 31.5% of women (i.e., 38 million women) and
27.5% of men (i.e., 31.3 million men) experience physical violence by an intimate
partner in their lifetime. Furthermore, the 12-month prevalence of physical
violence against women and men by an intimate partner was 4.0% (i.e., 4.77
million) and 4.8% (i.e., 5.45 million). The physiological and psychological con-
sequences of physical violence and abuse are far reaching and include such
adverse health conditions such as bodily injuries, sexually transmitted diseases,
posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, social dysfunction, and sub-
stance abuse disorders (Beydoun, Beydoun, Kaufman, Lo, & Zonderman, 2012;
Campbell, 2002; Smith, Hornish, Leonard, & Cornelius, 2012). For these rea-
sons, and many more, resolutions to combat IPV is a particularly salient issue.
Despite its prevalence and adverse ef‌fects on health, IPV has relatively low
prosecution and conviction rates. In an early review on IPV, Dutton (1987)
found that only 53.1% of arrests for IPV resulted in a conviction. More
recent estimates suggest that prosecution and conviction rates may still be rela-
tively low. Garner and Maxwell’s (2008) comprehensive literature review found
that IPV cases resulted in prosecution about 35% to 73% of the time for
reported of‌fenses and about 58% of the time for incidents involving an arrest.
The prosecution of IPV cases only produced a conviction in approximately 35%
to 48% of these cases (Garner & Maxwell, 2008). Such f‌igures have served as the
impetus for scholars to characterize the prosecution and conviction of IPV cases
as “rare,” “infrequent,” or “low.” Sherman (2000), for example, stated that
“domestic violence arrests in big cities are rarely followed by prosecution”
(p. 264). Moreover, even with pro-arrest movements that increased the
number of of‌fenders sent to criminal court for IPV, “serious prosecution of
these cases may still be unlikely” (Hartman & Belknap, 2003, p. 351; see also
Jordan, 2004; Stroshine & Robinson, 2003).
The successful prosecution and conviction of criminal cases is often contin-
gent upon the quality of evidence. In fact, strength of evidence is one of the
strongest predictors of conviction (Devine, Clayton, Dunford, Seying, & Pryce,
2001), which is equally true for IPV cases (Bechtel, Alarid, Holsinger, &
Holsinger, 2012; Nelson, 2012; Robinson & Cook, 2006). The role of police to
collect evidence, therefore, is a fundamental task for the ef‌f‌icacious prosecution
and conviction of cases, such as those involving IPV (Westera & Powell, in
press). Research exploring IPV, for instance, found that several factors were

Morrow et al.
positively related to prosecution and conviction, which included arresting the
defendant, charging the defendant with multiple of‌fenses, receiving an emer-
gency protection order, and f‌inishing the investigation on the same day as the
incident (Nelson, 2012). The study also found that obtaining photographs and
locating additional witnesses were positively associated with prosecution.
Moreover, Robinson and Cook (2006) found that witness statements increased
the likelihood that defendants pled guilty and decreased the probability of attri-
tion for IPV cases, whereby the victim retracts their statement against the
Considering the impact of quality evidence on the prosecution and conviction
of IPV cases, there is an imperative for police of‌f‌icers to collect the best evidence
possible following an IPV dispute. As the National Institute of Justice (1982)
indicated, “The greatest opportunity for obtaining information about an of‌fense
exists immediately after the of‌fense has occurred—before the witnesses
[(including the victim)] have an opportunity to disappear or to forget” (p. 14).
The immediate collection of evidence after an IPV incident is not only important
for an accurate account of the dispute, but such evidence also documents the
emotional and physical distress of the victim, which is particularly impactful in
criminal court (Nelson, 2012). The problem, however, is that many police inves-
tigations inadequately document IPV disputes such that prosecution and con-
viction are unlikely outcomes (Westera & Powell, in press).
One viable solution to improving the quality of evidence in IPV cases is
through the use of body-worn cameras (BWCs). BWCs may enhance the
manner in which police collect evidence for the prosecution and conviction of
IPV cases by video recording the emotionally charged victim statement, the
physical turmoil surrounding the incident (e.g., damaged property and evidence
of physical abuse), and documenting witness testimony. Using 56 BWC systems
deployed by the Phoenix Police Department (PPD), the current study examines
the evidentiary value of BWCs to aid in the arrest, prosecution, and conviction
of IPV cases. The pre- and post-camera deployment analysis provides prelimin-
ary evidence for the utility of BWCs in IPV cases among of‌f‌icers who were
assigned and not assigned a BWC over the 15-month study period.
Prosecutorial Charging Decisions, Police Investigation,
and IPV
Similar to judges, prosecutors must make assessments of responsibility and pre-
dictions about future behavior. When making the decision to charge a case,
prosecutors often rely on three focal concerns: blameworthiness, protection of
the community, and practical constrains and consequences (Stef‌fensmeier,
Ulmer, & Kramer, 1998). In other words, prosecutors are more likely to f‌ile
charges when the crime is serious, the victim has suf‌fered clear harm, and
evidence against the suspect is strong (O’Neal, Tellis, & Spohn, 2015).

Police Quarterly 19(3)
Unlike judges, however, the practical constraints and consequences of prosecu-
torial charging decisions are not guided by the social costs of punishment.
Instead, prosecutors have a “downstream orientation” to judges and jurors in
which they focus on the likelihood that they secure a conviction (Frohmann,
1991). Consequently, prosecutors seek to increase the chance of conviction
through the removal or rejection of cases that add uncertainty to the outcome
of their case (Albonetti, 1986, 1987). For example, prosecutors may be less likely
to f‌ile charges in cases where the victim’s credibility is called into question or it is
dif‌f‌icult to establish a clear victim.
Research on charging decisions indicate that a signif‌icant portion of cases are
rejected at screening (Spohn & Holleran, 2001; Spohn & Tellis, 2012; Tellis &
Spohn, 2008). The Vera Institute of Justice’s (1981) seminal report on felony
arrests in New York City, for instance, found that nearly half of all arrests did
not result in a charge. The same is true for arrests involving IPV. Recent esti-
mates suggest that IPV cases resulted in prosecution 57.6% of the time for
incidents involving an arrest. Moreover, the prosecution of IPV cases involving
an arrest only produced a conviction in about 31% of these cases (Garner &
Maxwell, 2008). Studies examining prosecutorial charging decisions also reveal
that the most robust predictors of charging decisions are legal factors such as
of‌fense seriousness, strength of evidence, and defendant culpability (Albonetti,
1987; Alderden & Ullman, 2012; Beichner & Spohn, 2005; Spohn & Holleran,
A prosecutor’s decision to accept or reject an IPV case is dependent on the
quality of information that the f‌irst responding police of‌f‌icer (FRPO) includes in
their written report of the...

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