Interpretation Of Police Incidents Can Depend On Footage

Published: Thursday, January 10, 2019 - 4:35pm
Audio icon Download mp3 (1.35 MB)
Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez/KJZZ
A Mesa police officer demonstrates a body camera.

Video documentation of police activities is becoming the new norm. But do observers draw the same conclusions from body cams as they do from dash cams?

A new study in the journal "PNAS" tried to find out.

At the heart of any investigation into police conduct lie questions of intention and blame.

Lead author Broderick Turner of Northwestern University and his colleagues examined how such judgments might change if a grand jury saw body cam footage versus dash cam footage.

They found that observers assigned less blame when body cam footage was used.

Turner says this agrees with established research showing that humans, as visual creatures, find it harder to make judgments about those we cannot see.

"Because in body camera video we don't really see the person doing the thing, it's just harder for us to make those judgments, so we don't," he said.

This effect is lessened in videos where an officer's hands or feet were visible, which further bolsters the hypothesis.

Turner added that the first-person perspective of body cams might make an observer identify with the officer and thus show more leniency.

The findings could have important implications for the interpretation of video surveillance.

"If you want to improve accountability, adding body cams only goes so far. Observers need to be able to see a situation from more than one viewpoint."

If you like this story, Donate Now!

Like Arizona Science Desk on Facebook