This is the feedback Indivisible Kirkland gave to the city of Kirkland when it was considering body cameras in spring 2022.
Indivisible Kirkland recognizes that the issue of body-worn cameras for police is a challenging community issue, because both research and the recommendations of our trusted partner organizations have been changing so rapidly.
When the first study of body cameras came out in 2012, it seemed they could be a panacea for both police violence and community trust in policing. We wish that early promise had panned out! However, subsequent research failed to replicate those benefits.
Large meta-analyses of all controlled trials of body cameras were published in 2020 and 2021. Both studies found that body cameras had no statistically significant effect on:
- use of force
- assaults on officers
- calls for service (officer-initiated or dispatched )
- traffic tickets
- stop & frisks
- incident reports
- response time
- time on scene
Body cameras did reduce complaints against officers, by nearly 17%. It is unclear whether these were frivolous complaints or not. They also increase police citations (non-traffic) by about 6%.
Research therefore does not support body cameras as a solution either to police violence or to community lack of trust in police.
In more anecdotal terms, this makes sense if we consider that the proliferation of body cameras between 2012 and 2020 clearly failed to “fix” American policing. Body cameras were worn during the murders of Derek Chauvin and Breonna Taylor. The mere presence of a body camera does not translate into community safety.
Trusted partner organizations
Because of all this, many of our trusted organizations stopped supporting body cameras by the summer of 2020, if they supported them at all.
These organizations all do have specific policy demands around policing. They consistently ask for policy changes that will protect vulnerable populations by decreasing the scope and footprint of policing, and by creating robust systems of accountability. These organizations are not asking cities to increase the budgets and surveillance capabilities of their police departments.
Specific Policy Feedback:
It is therefore Indivisible Kirkland’s strong recommendation that the city of Kirkland not purchase body cameras. It is an expensive program with serious ramifications for community members’ privacy, and it has no proven benefits to the community.
If Kirkland does enact a body-worn camera program, we do want to offer some feedback for that potential program:
- The program should not expand the size or budget of the police department; instead, positions and duties should be covered from within the current department. (We note that dismantling the SRO program could pay for a body camera program, for example.)
- Privacy issues, especially for youth and those with mental health conditions, must be of paramount importance.
- Officers must be held accountable for having their cameras on at all appropriate times.
- Officers involved in use of force and deadly force must give their statements before having access to the video.
- A civilian oversight board must have access to unedited camera footage and the authority to act upon concerning footage.