There is wide consensus about the need to equip police officers with body cameras. Beyond simply documenting officers’ interactions with citizens, the technology can improve trust between the police and the communities they serve, a Northeastern study shows.
Still, as the world reacts to the body cam footage of the traffic stop that led to the death of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, a Black man who authorities say was murdered by five police officers in Memphis, Tennessee, questions arise about the role the cameras play in deterring police misconduct.
While body-worn cameras have become an important tool in forging better community relations, the technology by itself isn’t enough to prevent officers from committing such egregious acts, says Ermus St. Louis, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice.
“We know those officers of course are wearing body-worn cameras, and I think that speaks to the lack of power of body-worn cameras as part of this hope that we have that they will change police behavior,” St. Louis says. “But we see that police culture is stronger than whatever deterrent effect that body-worn cameras are supposed to have.”