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In-Car Camera: Value and Impact

NCJ Number
Police Chief Volume: 71 Issue: 8 Dated: August 2004 Pages: 59-60,62,65
Lonnie J. Westphal
Date Published
August 2004
6 pages
This article presents a portion of the findings from the National In-Car Camera Impact Evaluation, which was conducted to assess the impact of the U.S. Justice Department's In-Car Camera Incentive Program, which provided financial aid to State police and highway patrol agencies to purchase and install in-car camera systems.
The first Federal awards under the In-Car Camera Incentive Program were dispersed in 2000; and by the end of 2003, 47 States and the District of Columbia had received just over $21 million for the purchase of in-car cameras. In-car cameras record events, primarily those associated with traffic stops that occur in front of the patrol car, thus providing an objective account of these events. The impact of in-car cameras was measured with multidimensional surveys conducted in 2002 to measure the views of line officers, midlevel and executive police managers, and community members. The surveys focused on the in-car camera's impact on officer safety, professionalism and performance, complaints about police practices, public opinion, agency leadership, training, and homeland security. Regarding officer safety, front-line officers reported that they reviewed the videotapes from their stops to critique their performance on safety issues. Regarding professionalism and performance, officers indicated that their awareness of the recording of their actions inevitably increased their attention to following agency protocols, particularly when they knew that the videotapes would be reviewed as part of their performance evaluation. In the case of citizen complaints about police practices in traffic stops, the videotapes provide objective evidence of what actually occurred, which not only resolves discrepancies in individual accounts about what transpired, but also deters citizens from bringing unfounded complaints. Citizens generally support the use of in-car cameras as a means of providing greater accountability for behavior by both officers and citizens involved in traffic stops. In the area of training, the survey responses indicate that video recordings provide the agency with training material for discussing proper officer behavior in a wide range of scenarios that patrol officers may encounter.