Use of Performance Information and External Accountability: The Role of Citizen Oversight in Mitigating the Motivated Evaluation of Body-Worn Camera Evidence

Published date01 August 2024
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1177/02750740241229998
AuthorMir Usman Ali,James E. Wright
Date01 August 2024
Subject MatterArticles
Use of Performance Information
and External Accountability: The Role
of Citizen Oversight in Mitigating the
Motivated Evaluation of Body-Worn
Camera Evidence
Mir Usman Ali
1
and James E. Wright II
2
Abstract
Despite being touted as a game-changing technology, studies on the inf‌luence of body-worn cameras (BWCs) on policing out-
comes have produced mixed results, with the underlying reasons for such f‌indings unclear. Drawing on the sociology of cul-
ture and organizational theory, we argue that BWCs often have mixed impacts due to deeply ingrained, valued occupational
assumptions and practices shaped by the structural and organizational context. These assumptions and practices, collectively
known as the police métier, are not politically neutral and can lead to motivated decisions rather than accurate ones. We
suggest that such motivated reasoning can be mitigated by changing the structural or organizational context, such as estab-
lishing a citizen oversight agency (COA), which could decrease racial disparities in policing outcomes. To test these arguments,
we examined the impact of BWCs on racial disparities in two types of policing outcomes: police homicides of citizens and
disorderly conduct arrests (DCAs). Our f‌indings indicate that while the adoption of BWCs does not impact racial disparities
in DCAs or police homicides of citizens, there is a signif‌icant decrease in racial dis parity in DCAs when BWCs and COAs are
used in conjunction. Additionally, while the racial disparity in police homicides of Blacks and Whites does not decrease when
BWCs and COAs are used together, there is an overall decrease in police homicides across both racial groups. Overall, our
study demonstrates that technologys impact on bureaucratic performance is inf‌luenced by occupational assumptions and
practices, which can be altered by external accountability mechanisms such as COAs.
Keywords
body-worn cameras, motivated reasoning, police métier, citizen oversight, sociology of culture, racial disparities in law
enforcement outcomes
Police agencies across America have come under renewed
scrutiny amidst allegations of excessive force and racially
disparate law enforcement. Moreover, in the aftermath of
the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, policy-
makers have increasingly sought insight into the eff‌icacy of
a range of reforms intended to reduce the incidence of exces-
sive force by police. Amidst this context, body-worn cameras
(BWCs) represent a technology that has enjoyed rapid uptake
in police agencies nationwide (e.g., Campeau, 2015;
Manning, 2008, 2015; Terrill & Ingram, 2016). Heralded
as a means of obtaining performance information of police
interactions with citizens, BWCs were introduced with the
expectation that they would have a civilizing effect on
police off‌icers as well as citizens during police-citizen
encounters, which would reduce the likelihood of police
encounters escalating and turning violent (Chapman, 2018).
However, recent studies and reviews of BWC offer mixed
results (Lum et al., 2019; Wright & Headley, 2021). In a
review of the studies examining BWC impacts, Lum et al.
(2019) conclude that “…BWCs have not had statistically sig-
nif‌icant or consistent effects on most measures of off‌icer and
citizen behavior or citizensviews of the police. Expectations
and concerns surrounding BWCs among police leaders and
citizens have not been realized by and large in the ways
anticipated by each.Furthermore, the reasons why BWCs
cause behavioral change among off‌icers under certain
1
School of Public Policy, University of Maryland-Baltimore County,Baltimore,
MD, USA
2
Askew School of Public Administration and Policy, Florida State University,
Tallahassee, FL, USA
Corresponding Author:
Mir Usman Ali, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland-Baltimore
County, Baltimore, MD, USA.
Email: miruali@umbc.edu
Article
American Review of Public Administration
2024, Vol. 54(6) 590616
© The Author(s) 2024
Article reuse guidelines:
sagepub.com/journals-permissions
DOI: 10.1177/02750740241229998
journals.sagepub.com/home/arp
circumstances while having no impact under others are not
well understood (Lum et al., 2019).
Given the above f‌indings, we make two arguments in the
current study. First, we argue that the f‌indings on BWC
impacts are mixed because the prior literature construes
police agencies as politically neutral organizations that
respond to accountability mechanisms in straightforward,
predictable ways (Headley et al., 2017; Pyo, 2020). Such a
view minimizes the role of valued practices, which are
based on assumptions about the nature of the work; how it
can be best performed; the resources required; and the risks
and obstacles to performance. Anchored by the structural
and organizational context, the preceding practices are con-
stitutive of the occupational culture of patrol off‌icers. They
are meaningful insofar as off‌icers assume them necessary
for deterring crime, asserting autonomy, showing productiv-
ity, preserving safety, and avoiding supervisor scrutiny.
The above assumptions and practicescollectively termed
the police métierare essential for off‌icers to organize social
reality and navigate their work lives (Manning, 2010). We
argue that absent changes in the structural and organizational
contextthat shift the above métier, off‌icerswill tend to use tech-
nologies (such as BWCs) in ways that reproduce the above
assumptions and practices. Thus, if technology is viewed as
irrelevantto deterring crime, encroachingon off‌icer autonomy,
or interfering with the eff‌icient enactment of duties, it will be
resisted, turned off, seldom used, or perhaps even sabotaged
(Manning, 2008). In essence, we suggest that the métier
serves as a lens through which police off‌icers engage in moti-
vated reasoning, that is, reasoning that leads to desired rather
than accurate decisions (Kunda, 1990).
Consequently, we argue that if the control of and authority
to review BWC evidence is vested solely within police agen-
cies, then the métier will lead police supervisors to adjudicate
BWC evidence in ways that absolve off‌icers alleged to have
committed misconduct. For instance, supervisors may reason
that an off‌icers actions cannot be easily judged because
You had to be thereto understand why the off‌icer acted
in a particular way in a specif‌ic situation (Manning, 2010).
Alternatively, supervisors may reason that disciplining the
off‌icer might ref‌lect poorly on police agency leadership or
make the agency the target of unwanted media attention.
Thus, motivated reasoning will tend to encourage self-
serving decisions, thereby frustrating the intent of BWCs to
inject alternative logics into policing practices.
On the other hand, we argue that if citizen oversight of
BWC evidence exists, motivated reasoning will likely be mit-
igated. This is because citizen oversight would decrease the
insularitynecessary for members of the police agencyto repro-
duce routinized practices and assumptions. Thus, if BWC evi-
dence is subject to review by a citizen oversight agency
(COA), off‌icerswouldbemorelikelytoadheretoconstitu-
tional standards when dealing with racialized minorities,
which, in turn, would decrease the racial disparity in policing
outcomes.
Second, we argue that even if a COA can review BWC evi-
dence, the latters impact on policing outcomes will depend on
situational exigencies during citizen-police encounters, such as
an off‌icers intuitive grasp of danger, and the consequent dis-
cretion off‌icers can exercise (Lipsky, 1980; Manning, 2010).
Thus, police behavior will be more susceptible to change
during encounters that involve little danger (e.g., disorderly
conduct arrests [DCAs]; Skolnick, 1966) because such encoun-
ters afford police off‌icers broad discretion. On the other hand,
off‌icer behavior during encounters that are likely to involve
danger (e.g., encounters that result in a police homicide of a
citizen) would be less likely to change because such encounters
afford relatively narrow discretion to police off‌icers.
In this study, we examine whether BWCs are associated
with a reduction in either racial disparities in DCAs or
police homicides of citizens. In support of the argument
above, we f‌ind that merely adopting BWCs does not impact
either outcome. However, when a COA accompanies BWC
adoption, racial disparity in DCAs decreases. Furthermore,
while police homicides of Blacks and Whites decline when
BWCs are accompanied by COAs, racial disparity in police
homicides remains unchanged because the declines in police
homicides of Blacks and Whites offset each other.
Literature Review
There have been several studies in recent years in which
scholars have sought to highlight the phenomenon of moti-
vated use of performance information and performance man-
agement systems more generally. These studies have
demonstrated the phenomenon of motivated reasoning in
experimental settings (Baekgaard & Serritzlew, 2016;
Belardinelli et al., 2018), in policing (Campeau, 2015;
Manning, 2008, 2010; Terrill & Ingram, 2016), medicine
(Kerpershoek et al., 2016), and probation services (Sabbe
et al., 2021). Building upon ideas whose pedigree can be
traced back to the concept of bounded rationality (Simon,
1957), these studies suggest that despite the intent of intro-
ducing greater rationality in decision-making, technological
innovations are not likely to be used in a politically neutral
fashion. Instead, individualsuse of technologies and inter-
pretation of the information they produce will be driven by
deeply ingrained, valued occupational assumptions and prac-
tices, which, in turn, are shaped by the structural and organi-
zational context (also see Kraft et al., 2015). The upshot is
that unless the structural or organizational context shifts
which, in turn, leads to a change in the valued assumptions
and practices, organizational routines and the outcomes
they produce are not likely to change.
An illustration of the motivated use of technology is found
in a study conductedby police organizational scholarManning
(2008), who assessed the implementation and operational
impact of crime analysis and crime mapping (CA/CM) in
three police agencies. While the three cities implemented
CA/CM technology to encourage rational problem solving,
Ali and Wright 591

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