College of Humanities and Social Sciences
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

On-Set with Body-Worn Cameras in a Police Organization: Structures, Practices, and Technological Frames

Marthinus C. Koen

Major Professor: James Willis, PhD, Department of Criminology, Law and Society

Committee Members: Cynthia Lum, Christopher Koper, Brenda Bond

Research Hall, #302
May 24, 2016, 01:00 PM to 10:00 AM

Abstract:

Existing research on body-worn cameras (BWCs) has primarily focused on outcomes (e.g., use-of-force incidents, complaints, and arrests) rather than the processes related to BWC implementation and use by officers.  This dissertation provides insights into the effect that the implementation of BWCs has had on key organizational structures and practices, including reporting, discretion, training, police-citizen interactions, and supervision.  It also focuses on the technological frames of individuals belonging to different organizational groups and examines to what extent these outlooks differed between groups and changed over time.  Using in-depth interviews, ride-along observations, and patrol officer surveys at a single police agency, this research resulted in two major, interrelated findings.  First, the largest effect of the implementation of BWCs was on accountability, which had increased in scope to cover a range of different aspects of policing, including training, reporting, discretion, and police-citizen interactions.  At the same time, the intensity with which officers' experienced accountability had not significantly increased as BWC footage was not systematically used to monitor, review, and/or evaluate police officer conduct and quality of performance.  The second major finding, regarding the technological frames of two relevant social groups (Managers and Users) helps explain these findings.  BWCs were implemented primarily for training and to protect patrol officers against groundless complaints rather than a mechanism for identifying officer misconduct, failures to comply with departmental policy, and poor street level performance.  Although Users initially feared that BWCs were going to be used to get them in trouble for minor instances of misconduct or rule violations, their frames changed over time as they realized that BWCs were not going to be used by Managers as a "gotcha" mechanism.  As officers learned over time that BWCs were used primarily to protect and support them, they became much more positive and less apprehensive about their implementation in the department.  This challenges the view suggested by the technological frames literature that "first impressions" last, as Users' initial apprehension toward BWCs gave way to a readiness to embrace them, particularly in light of the several benefits they delivered.  This contribution to existing knowledge is beneficial in two ways:  First, it fills a gap in existing police technology research in providing an in-depth examination of the effects of BWC implementation on a variety of structures and practices in addition to technological frames.  Second, it serves as a baseline for future, large scale studies by identifying additional factors that were important and/or specific to the implementation of BWCs that have not been fully explored.

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