To Adopt or Not to Adopt: Contextualizing Police Body-Worn Cameras Through Structural Contingency and Institutional Theoretical Perspectives

Date01 September 2019
DOI10.1177/0734016819847267
AuthorJustin J. Smith
Publication Date01 September 2019
SubjectArticles
Article
To Adopt or Not to Adopt:
Contextualizing Police
Body-Worn Cameras
Through Structural
Contingency and Institutional
Theoretical Perspectives
Justin J. Smith
1
Abstract
There has been an increase in the adoption of body-worn cameras (BWCs) by law enforcement
agencies in the United States and abroad. While several studies have showed promising results in
officer satisfaction, community satisfaction, and other outcomes, the rationale for the adoption and
diffusion of this technology has received little attention.This article suggests that agency adoption of
BWCs can be understood through two competing theoretical frameworks: structural contingency
theory and institutional theory. Intended as a research note, the paper sets up a number of testable
propositions and hypotheses pertaining to BWCs as contextualized through these theories and
measurable through the recent Law Enforcement Management Administrative Statistics-Body-
Worn Camera Supplement.
Keywords
police body-worn cameras, adoption, diffusion, structural contingency theory, institutional theory
Over the last few years, police agencies worldwide have adopted body-worn cameras (BWCs) at a
rapid pace (Bud, 2016; Coudert, Butin, & Le Me´tayer, 2015; Lum, Koper, Merola, Scherer, &
Reioux, 2015; Miller, Toliver, & Police Executive Research Forum, 2014; White, 2014). BWC
technology enables real time audio and video recording of activities from the police officer’s
perspective. The recorded footage can be stored and retrieved at a later date (Coudert et al.,
2015; White, 2014).
1
Department of Criminal Justice, College of Community Innovation and Education, University of Central Florida, Orlando,
FL, USA
Corresponding Author:
Justin J. Smith, Department of Criminal Justice, College of Community Innovation and Education, University of Central
Florida, 12805 Pegasus Drive, Bldg. 80, Suite 311, Orlando, FL 32816-1600, USA.
Email: justin.smith@ucf.edu
Criminal Justice Review
2019, Vol. 44(3) 369-385
ª2019 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
sagepub.com/journals-permissions
DOI: 10.1177/0734016819847267
journals.sagepub.com/home/cjr
Proponents of BWCs tout several benefits. Cameras are hypothesized to have a “civilizing effect”
(White, 2014, p. 6) on police and citizens, calming both parties and leading to amicable interactions
and decreased resistance in coercive situations. Decreased resistance and less use of force reduces
officer and citizen injuries and the likelihood of complaints (Ariel, Farrar, & Sutherland, 2015; Ariel
et al., 2016a, 2016b; Coudert et al., 2015; Ellis, Jenkins, & Smith, 2015; Grossmith et al., 2015;
Jennings, Fridell, & Lynch, 2014; Jennings, Lynch, & Fridell, 2015; Katz, Choate, Ready, & Nunˇo,
2014; Miller et al., 2014). BWCs also provide a means of holding officers accountable for their
words and actions, and ensuring compliance with legal search, seizure, and evidence collection
procedures (Harris, 2010), concerns that marginalized groups of citizens and Civil Rights groups,
such as the America Civil Liberties Union, may appreciate (Ariel et al., 2016a; Bud, 2016; Coudert
et al., 2015; Ellis et al., 2015; Grossmith et al., 2015; Miller et al., 2014; Scheindlin & Manning,
2015; Taylor, 2016). Such outcomes have the potential to positively impact community perceptions
of the police organization as a whole (Ariel, 2016; Coudert et al., 2015; Ellis et al., 2015; Grossmith
et al., 2015; Miller et al., 2014). Improved community perceptions may lead to more citizen
reporting of and assistance in solving crimes (Ariel, 2016).
BWCs have additional benefits. Some scholars suggest BWCs may increase officer productivity
and efficiency (Ready & Young, 2015) and improve evidence collection by providing on the spot
recording of victim, suspect, and witness statements, among other aspects of crime scenes (Bud,
2016; Coudert et al., 2015; Ellis et al., 2015; Jennings et al., 2015; Katz et al., 2014; Miller et al.,
2014; Victoria Police Department, 2010). The use of BWC recordings of police actions for training
purposes has also been proposed (Coudert et al., 2015; Grossmith et al., 2015; Miller et al., 2014).
Further, some studies have found that officers have been supportive of the technology in protecting
them from injury and unfounded citizen complaints (Jennings et al., 2014, 2015; Katz et al., 2014;
Victoria Police Department, 2010).
Conversely, critics have pointed to drawbacks of the technology, including privacy concerns
surrounding the recording of victim statements and the interior of people’s homes, as well as the
recording of police officer downtime (Bud, 2016; Coudert et al., 2015; Miller et al., 2014; Taylor,
2016). Critics have also pointed to substantial start-up costs associated with purchasing and main-
taining equipment, training officers, and developing new standard operating procedures regarding
BWC usage and control of footage (Bud, 2016; Coudert et al., 2015; Miller et al., 2014; Taylor,
2016; Timan, 2016). Moreover, some police administrators have expressed concern that officers will
be reluctant to use force when necessary or that the media will utilize footage from BW Cs to
embarrass and undermine officers (Smykla, Crow, Crichlow, & Snyder, 2016). One study conducted
by Ariel and colleagues (2016b) revealed a potential negative consequence of BWC use. Officers in
their sample equipped with cameras were assaulted more frequently than those without cameras.
Despite criticism, it is anticipated law enforcement agencies will continue to invest in BWC
technology (Bud, 2016; Coudert et al., 2015; Lum et al., 2015; Miller et al., 2014). In 2014, President
Obama oversaw the creation of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and the
recommendation that the Justice Department provides US$75 million in funding for police agencies
to purchase BWCs (Office of the White House Press Secretary, 2015; President’s Task Force on 21st
Century Policing, 2015). Such funding opportunities have continued under the Trump administra-
tion. This push is interesting, as some scholars contend it is too early to know if BWCs will have the
desired impacts with respect to improving police performance (Bud, 2016; Lum et al., 2015).
Commentators have warned that encouraging agencies to equip their officers with BWCs is merely
a false panacea, a technical fix to more serious underlying social problems (Ariel, 2016; Coudert
et al., 2015).
Given the newness of BWCs, it is questionable why so many agencies are investing in it. The
rationale for BWC adoption has remained underexplored with most studies focusing on the effects of
the implementation of BWCs. Two studies have examined adoption decision-making and the
370 Criminal Justice Review 44(3)

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT