Study: Body cam footage negatively influences viewers’ perceptions of police violence victims
According to Pacific Standard, a new study indicates that people who watch police body camera footage ascribe less blame to police than people who view the same police misconduct on a dashcam. Following the 2014 shooting of Micheal Brown Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri, a national conversation about police violence culminated in departments all over the country touting body cameras as the solution to police accountability and some measure of trust between departments and the cities they claimed to serve.
However, as one of the researchers who conducted the study, doctoral student at Northwestern University Broderick Turner, told Pacific Standard, “Most U.S. police departments are using body camera and dash cam footage… It’s important for both academics and police departments to understand how observers could change their mind if they only saw body camera footage or only saw dash cam footage, and no one had understood this yet—so we decided to go out there and do it.”
What Turner and his team discovered was that viewers of body camera videos and viewers of dash cam videos assigned different levels of intent to officers who killed or assaulted suspects. In several scenarios that used both actual footage from police departments and scripted videos, viewers were much less likely to blame the police officers if the video was captured from the point of view of the officer’s body camera.
In another experiment, participants were assigned to be in mock grand juries, and they were much less likely to send a case to trial if the video captured was body camera footage as opposed to dash cam footage. This could be attributed to what cognitive psychologists call visual salience, when a viewer’s judgments of a subject’s actions are affected by how much the subject is seen. As Turner explained to Pacific Standard, “We essentially need a person to make attributional judgments… To say this person did something, we need the person to be there, and body cam footage just has less of the person there.”
“When you see a body cam video, you are seeing only a piece of a larger story. So ask yourself, ‘What am I not seeing here?'” Turner explained. “That’s something I want people to take away from this.”