Police body cameras have been around for a few years now and, since then, it’s helped an incredible number of officers get justice. A recent study shows that body cameras are, indeed, extremely effective when it comes to judgment of intent. In other words: people who watch body camera footage are less likely to blame the wearer. But the reason isn’t what you’d expect.
Relying on car cameras to show the whole truth about an incident is an old and ineffective way. Dashcams don’t usually show the complete chain of events that lead to that occurrence, making them ineffective in that aspect. The research was done with over 2,000 observers and included 8 experiments showing footage from body cameras and dash cameras. Researchers came to the conclusion that, when observers watched footage from body cameras, they attributed lower levels of intent to officers than when they watched dashcam footage.
Most people would think that’s because body cameras put viewers in the shoes of the officer, making them more relatable. That would be a great guess but not the actual reason why.
Body Cameras and Judgment of Blame
According to Broderick Turner, a doctoral student at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, that behavior is due to something called visual salience, a basic principle of cognitive psychology that states “we essentially need a person to make attributional judgment”. Because body cameras show very little or no parts of the wearer’s body, it’s hard for people to blame them. The researchers came to that conclusion by showing viewers staged body camera footages. Some showed the officer’s body parts, and some didn’t. Footages that did show the wearers caused people to be more likely to blame them than the footages that didn’t.
One way or another, police body cameras are effective. Not only they show a closer view of the occurrence but, when combined with in-car cameras, viewers are able to get a better understanding of the whole situation. That’s the only way to guarantee the truth will always come to light so justice can be served.