Reducing Assaults Against Staff Using Body-Worn Cameras (BWCs) in Railway Stations

Published date01 March 2019
Date01 March 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Reducing Assaults Against
Staff Using Body-Worn
Cameras (BWCs)
in Railway Stations
Barak Ariel
, Mark Newton
, Lorna McEwan
, Garry A. Ashbridge
Cristobal Weinborn
, and Hagit Sabo Brants
Workplace violence is a major health and safety phenomenon. We investigate whether body-worn
cameras (BWCs) can achieve a cost-effective reduction of assaults. We conducted a randomized
controlledtrial with train stations exposedto the highest recorded assault rates againststaff in England
andWales. Treatment membersof staff were equipped withBWCs and control staff wereunexposed to
BWCs. Officialrecords of assaults againsttreatment and controlstaff as well as against anyemployee at
the stationcomplexes are used as outcomemeasures. Results suggest47% significant overall reduction
in the odds of assaults against BWCs-equipped staff at treatment versus controls locations—or
approximatelytwo versus four assaults, on average, per station.In addition, we found a 26% significant
reductionin assaults against all employeesin the treatment versuscontrol station complexes—9versus
12 assaults, on average, per station—suggesting that BWCs have a spatial diffusion of benefits effects.
We estimate that BWCs can reduce at least 3,000 working days per year lost because of physical
violence at work. We conclude that BWCs provide substantial benefits for staff health and safety to
those who areequipped with the devicesas well as to staff in the vicinityof BWC-equipped employees.
workplace violence, aggression, staff, train stations, randomized controlled trial (RCT)
What can be done to reduce the crisis level of workplace aggression? Millions of staff members are
injured, assaulted, or threatened each year, in a wide range of public-facing professions. Nurses,
doctors, security guards, police officers, and teachers are particularly vulnerable, and the overall
Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Faculty of Law, Institute of Criminology, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel
British Transport Police, and Policing and Security Coordination, Rail Delivery Group, London, United Kingdom
British Transport Police, New Station Street, Leeds, United Kingdom
British Transport Police, Carlisle, United Kingdom
Corresponding Author:
Barak Ariel, Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge, Sidgwick Avenue Cambridge CB3 9DA, United Kingdom.
Criminal Justice Review
2019, Vol. 44(1) 76-93
ª2018 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734016818814889
evidence does not seem to find effective methods to prevent this omnipresent type of violence. The
consequences are far-reaching for health outcomes, economic consequences as a result of absences,
turnover, and productivity.
One recently suggested technological solution is equipping staff members with body-worn cam-
eras (BWCs). These devices can videotape encounters between members of the public who express
aggression and violence against employees. They can serve as an “effective deterrent threat” (Jervis,
1982) by collecting incriminating evidence against transgressors. BWCs can have a civilizing effect
on all parties to the interaction (Farrar & Ariel, 2013). Being self-aware that a camera is capturing
demeanor is hypothesized to reduce tension and to pro mote more socially desirable behaviors.
Consequently, the likelihood of assaults against the individual equipped with the BWCs is hypothe-
sized to be reduced compared to no-treatment conditions.
However, there is limited published evidence on the merits of BWCs in assaults against staff
members. Thus far, research on these devices has been devoted to their use within policing, and there
has only been one large-scale experiment dedicated specifically to the effect of BWCs on assaults
(Ariel et al., 2017). However, whether these findings are generalizable to other industries is pre-
sently unclear—although we hypothesize that the suppression effect of BWCs on aggression is
In order to investigate the use of BWCs for violence reduction in nonpolicing environments, we
turn to staff members of train operating companies (TOCs). These employees are particularly
susceptible to workplace violence because they encounter millions of passengers on a daily basis,
thus increasing the likelihood of engaging in volatile and aggressive interactions. Would BWCs
reduce assaults against these staff members, compared to staff members who are unequipped with
these devices?
We conducted a randomized controlled field trial in order to address this question, with England
and Wales’ top 33 train stations in terms of assaults against staff, nationwide. During a 6-month trial,
about half of the stations were assigned to treatment conditions, where all staff members who work
at gate lines were equipped with BWCs. The odds of assaults against them were compared to the
odds of assaults against a similar number of control staff in the other half of the sample—as well as
the odds of assaults against all staff members in these participating stations, in order to account for
potential spatial diffusion of benefit effects. The range of station types, geographic locations across
the country, multiple TOCs, and population/interaction types increases the generalizability of our
findings. Furthermore, in order to increase the robustness of the analysis, official police statistics on
assaults were used in lieu of self-rep orted assaults by the participat ing staff members, with or
without BWC footage. This article reports the findings of this trial and its implications for
Theoretical Background
Violence at Work
It is well established that exposure to violence is one of the most common hazards to health and
safety at work (Friis, Larsen, & Lasgaard, 2017). While verbal and passive forms of aggression are
more frequent than physical and active forms of aggression (Baron & Neuman, 1996; Neuman &
Baron, 1997a), homicide is the second leading cause of death in American workplaces (Jenkins,
1996). Two million American workers are victims of workplace violence each year (U.S. Depart-
ment of Labor, 2002). Some refer to this as a crisis and believe it should be dealt with as such
(Taneja, 2014). In some professions, the exposure to violence is dramatic, with a prominent rate of
public-facing professionals experiencing firsthand aggression at various levels of harm. For exam-
ple, at least 38%of police officers are injured during the use of force encounters (Alpert & Dunham,
Ariel et al. 77

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