To Where the River Flows: Examining the Downstream Effects of Police Body-Worn Cameras

Kevin B. Petersen

Advisor: David Weisburd, PhD, Department of Criminology, Law and Society

Committee Members: Cynthia Lum, David B. Wilson, Barak Ariel

Online Location, Online
March 23, 2023, 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM


Considerable attention has been given to the proximal impacts of body-worn cameras (BWC) on police-citizen encounters. Often neglected, however, are the effects of BWCs on distal or downstream criminal justice outcomes. Given their potential to capture disputed elements of an offense, many have associated BWCs with enhanced investigations and prosecutions. Despite this, extant research on these outcomes remains limited, leaving the broader impact of this technology on the criminal justice system in question.   

This dissertation by articles examines the downstream effects of BWCs through three related studies. First, to take stock of the extant research base, Article 1 reports the results of a systematic review and meta-analysis on the downstream effects of BWCs. Across 12 experimental and quasi-experimental studies, inverse variance weighted random effects models are used to estimate the impact of BWCs on five prosecutorial and court-related outcome measures. Results of these analyses suggest that the effect of BWC evidence may be dependent on the nature of the offense in question. However, these conclusions are limited by a small number of studies with homogenous characteristics, and thus additional research is needed with a focus on methodological rigor and context specificity. To address these limitations, Article 2 uses a cluster randomized controlled trial to test the impact of BWCs on a variety of court outcomes and crime types. Using multi-level logistic and negative binomial regression models, the results of Article 2 indicate variable effects of BWC evidence across crime types and outcomes. These results suggest that the downstream effects of BWCs are nuanced in ways that could not be captured in Article 1 and point to specific areas where BWC evidence may be targeted by prosecutors and law enforcement. Finally, while Articles 1 and 2 identify potential downstream effects of BWCs, they are unable to identify the mechanisms responsible for these effects. Article 3 uses survey data collected from state prosecutors to explore the formal usage, utility, and challenges that prosecutors face when using BWC footage. Using a combination of descriptive analyses, linear regressions, and structural equation modeling, the results of Article 3 indicate that the utility and usage of BWC footage may be constrained by various organizational and operational challenges. These results provide valuable insight into the mechanisms behind the findings of Articles 1 and 2 and identify tangible areas of policy that should be targeted to improve the uptake of BWC footage moving forward.