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Body cameras don't change police behavior, new study finds

A recently concluded study by the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C., as well as government task force Lab @ DC found that the use of body-worn cameras by police officers had no significant effect on use of force, NPR reports. Body cameras similarly had little impact on the occurrence of citizen complaints. The results are a disappointment to both law enforcement and community activists who were hopeful that the technology would help increase police accountability and transparency.

Lab @ DC, a group within D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D)'s administration that uses science to shape policy, partnered with the MPD to randomly assign cameras to about 2,600 officers, allowing rigorous comparison between those with cameras and those without. The study — the most robust and long-running on the subject to date — found that there was no indication that officers outfitted with cameras acted any differently, used less force, or received fewer citizen complaints.

The news doesn't come as a surprise to everyone; technology and social justice experts like Harlan Yu point out that most footage of violent police encounters comes from bystanders' cell phones anyway. An officer-worn body camera could thus be redundant in the age of smartphones and connectivity. However, Metropolitan Chief of Police Peter Newsham says that D.C.'s body cameras aren't going anywhere for now: "I think it's really important for legitimacy for the police department when we say something, to be able to back it up with a real-world view that others can see."