AuthorBraunstein, Rich

    The history of technology and science in the investigation of criminal acts is long and inclusive. In 1902, fingerprint evidence was used to gain a conviction in England. (1) By 1911, the first murder case using fingerprint evidence resulted in a guilty verdict in the United States. (2) By the end of the 20th century, visual and chemical comparisons used as evidence included hair strands, bite-marks, tire tracks, shoe prints, rifling marks on bullets, and extractor and firing pin marks on shell casings. (3) Eventually, however, new science led to the overturn of convictions where previous science had "proved" someone guilty. (4) This has been the case with arson investigations, rape cases, and terrorist bombings, to name a few. (5)

    The most recent technological advance in the areas of police investigation and community policing is the body worn camera (BWC). (6) As of November 2014, forty-one of the 100 largest cities in America had some or all their police officers recording citizen interactions via body worn cameras and twenty-five more had plans to initiate some type of BWC program. (7) BWC programs are adopted internally through police departments' administrative processes and externally with state legislation requiring or recommending BWC programs to be adopted. (8) Much of the internal and external motivation behind the adoption of BWC programs is the research-supported belief that BWCs reduce use-of-force incidents and citizen complaints. (9)

    Questions remain, however, on the full range of BWC programs' contributions. BWCs are the seemingly inevitable next step in evidence collection technology. (10) Still, they may not be a cost-effective addition to police departments throughout the United States. Going forward, municipal police departments must address the question of their contributions to (1) the administration of field operations and (2) the management of community relations. Some of the required assessments are quantifiable. The financial costs of introducing and maintaining BWC programs can be measured, as can the costs of responding to officer misconduct complaints (in and out of courtrooms) and the impact BWC programs have on successful policing practices. Less accessible factors to the evaluation of BWC programs include their impact on implicit bias among officers and community members, as well as their impact on democratic principles and civil liberties when police interactions with the public are recorded.

    This article seeks to contribute to the literature on BWC programs by addressing the value of this technology through a principal-agent theoretical lens. As such, our focus is on the value of BWC programs to law enforcement agencies and personnel (agents of the public) and to community members, identified here as the principals. The principal-agent theoretical framework helps us to better understand the expectations (sometimes demands) of the component populations within a community and how police administrators ought to move forward in consideration of initiating or continuing a BWC program. While community or external dynamics are important in this consideration, they are not the only set of factors responsible for the success or failure of a BWC program in a community. Internal relationships are an equal partner in the mix. The agents (i.e., administrators, labor representatives, and police officers) constitute the internal groups affected by the dynamics of BWC policies and procedures. Their interests and capabilities must also be considered within an investigation of best practices in the use of BWC technology. In sum, we advance the call for examination of BWC programs through the lens of both principal and agent.


    Community members and police officers are engaged in a somewhat traditional principal-agent relationship, with the community in the role of principals, and officers in the role of agents. In Thomas Hobbes's culture-shifting work on the social contract, he believed the "passions that incline men to peace" (e.g., the "fear of death, desire of such things as are necessary to commodious living, and a hope by their industry to obtain them") compel humans to contract with a sovereign authority to modify, if not control, our inclination toward antisocial behavior. (11) This theoretical bedrock of modern governance is not lost in the law enforcement context. There is a clear connection between the work the police do in democratic societies and the desires of people to live free from harm--free from the war of "all against all" that Hobbes described. (12) Police officers in democratic societies are asked by the community to perform the dangerous and often conflict-riddled work of maintaining public safety. Police departments are given substantial public trust as agents allowed to use force, sometimes deadly force, in pursuit of public safety. In this context, community members desire professional conduct that validates their trust, supports their needs, and results in their personal safety. When these elements are missing from the relationship, or are threatened, it is rational for principals to demand responsiveness and accountability.

    Problems within the principal-agent relationship arise when specified or desired goals are either not realized or when agents use methods not approved by the principal in attempts to reach desired ends. Both conditions are relevant in the policing context. Since the principal is responsible for getting the necessary and reasonable outputs produced, misdeeds of the agent should produce substantial discomfort among principals. Malfeasances either by intent or incompetence must be addressed by the principal lest they become party to the misdeeds. Waterman wrote that bureaucratic agents were complex to control. They have a tendency to exacerbate informational asymmetries to their own advantage. (13) Principal-agent researchers have observed bureaucrats employing tactics to (1) avoid responsibilities they do not favor and (2) increase their own independence. (14) More recently, it has been noted that agents exploiting information imbalances for "self-gain rather than for the collective interests of the contracting parties lead[s] to moral hazard problems." (15) In sum, if the agents develop tactics to tip the power balance to their favor, principals must develop methods to enhance their controls, or the experiment in self-governance and civil liberties is substantially threatened.

    The relationship between the principal and agent in contemporary policing is not, however, one-sided. Police departments have unquestioned needs for the safety of their own members, for protection against false accusations of misconduct, and for cooperation as investigations attempt to shed light on sometimes-traumatic events. In each of these instances, community members have, from time-to-time, fallen short of these expectations for responsible behavior. Police departments are entrusted with large public budgets that must be protected against expenditures that do not materially increase their capacity to perform the...

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