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Body-Worn Cameras Against Police Brutality in New York Essay

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Updated: May 22nd, 2022

Critical Assessment of Proposals of New York State, Nassau County, Suffolk County, New York City, BLM, Minneapolis Policies

Police violence and brutality have long been a problem in the United States, but it was the killing of an unarmed black man George Floyd that triggered mass protests in 2020. The events raised the awareness of the dire need to reimagine policing itself and address its systemic faults, so multiple proposals across the country followed suit. One of the most resonant aspects of George Floyd’s case was the police officer’s long history of misconduct with numerous complaints filed against him.

Yet, they did not soil the officer’s image, nor did they compromise his employment. In response to this unfair circumstance, New York State​ repealed the 50a 1976 civil rights statute that kept police misconduct records concealed from the public eye. Nassau County seeks to address the same issue by creating a Civilian Complaint Review Board that would investigate alleged police misconduct and seek special prosecutors.

In the first case, the police union vehemently opposed the repel, saying that exposing misconduct would hurt too many employees’ reputations. Initiatives in Nassau County have also been met with a lot of pushback: pro-police activists formed Back The Blue rallies have been in response (Chiueh, 2020). The ongoing conflict may be understood in terms of radical criminology. The radical theory states that the general interests of the ruling class prevail over the interests of society as a whole. The police protect its own members, often at the expense of broader populations’ safety (Lea, 2016). There is often a legal foundation to such a privileged position; the laws control the oppressed class and mitigate threats to the power of the ruling class.

As reported by Thorne (2020), a new study revealed high rates of racial bias among the police force in Suffolk County. Black drivers were 59% and Hispanic drivers were 16% more likely to be arrested during a traffic stop, the study says (Thorne, 2020). The police department has since implemented training on implicit bias to remove disparities. This initiative is also in line with the radical approach to criminology because it takes into consideration the social struggle between two groups of people. The purpose of training is to make the empowered party more aware of their privileged status and treat vulnerable populations with more fairness.

Mayor di Blasio of New York City, Black Lives Matter, and criminal justice scholars agree that black communities deserve better social services, housing, and education. Together, such measures promise to prevent crime by offering those living in underprivileged communities better options in life. The initiatives are consistent with Hirshi’s understanding of crime within this social control theory. For the scholar, social and familial bonds served as constraints on offending, which is why developing communities may mean creating a self-regulating environment with lower crime rates (Hirschi, 1986).

Developmental and life-course theories may also provide theoretical underpinnings for what Mayor di Blasio of New York City, Black Lives Matter, and criminal justice scholars have in mind. It is argued that there are certain risks and protective factors that predict a person’s inclination to commit a crime (McGee & Farrington, 2016). Increasing funding for vulnerable communities could put a halt to the intergenerational transmission of offending and antisocial behavior.

Lastly, Minneapolis proposes a new Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention that would take a holistic approach to the issues of public health and safety. Restorative justice concepts will play a decisive role in forming a new vision. Restorative justice means that executing justice should not be confined to punishing the offender (Zehr, 2015). As George Floyd’s case has shown, the effects of police brutality go beyond hurting an individual and their family. His killing has had a profound impact on American society and started a heated discussion about the functioning of the police. Restorative justice provides a framework for involving all parties affected by the crime – victims, offenders, and communities (Zehr, 2015). Together. they can understand each other’s needs and address them in the aftermath of a crime.

Critical Assessment of Policies in Newark, New Jersey

Newark, New Jersey, has approached the issue of police brutality and citizens’ distrust of the police with utmost seriousness even before the George Floyd tragedy. Season 34 Episode 10 of the Frontline series titled “Policing the Police” and aired in 2016 provides a look inside the Newark Police Department in New Jersey. The same year, the Consent Decree came into power prohibiting police officers from illegal stops and frisks that have been disproportionately affecting Black and Latino males. The Consent Decree was followed by new practices, one of which involved hiring former gang members to form a Street Team for Community Intervention and conflict resolution.

Two criminology theories may serve as a theoretical foundation for such a decision. Firstly, the rehabilitation theory states that the purpose of punishment is not to inflict pain and mental suffering on the offender but to treat and train them. The end goal of criminal rehabilitation is to help a person return to society and function as a law-abiding citizen (Hudson, 2016). Secondly, the theory of collateral consequences elucidates that the punishment that offenders receive goes well beyond their time behind the bars. They have to wear the label their entire life and experience extreme limitations in career choices and other lifestyle options (Kirk & Wakefield, 2018). As shown in Frontline, former gang members can reinvent their lives and apply their knowledge to help dismantle active gangs and rehabilitate those involved.

Another initiative realized in Newark is the introduction of a Civilian Review Board with disciplinary proceedings that has the power of disbarring a police officer of their gun, license, or job. The Board ensures equality and fairness of punishment as well as its imposition, which is in line with Just Deserts Theory (Lanier, 2018). Police officers are often exempt from taking responsibility for crimes and misconduct for which civilians would have to face charges, and the Board seeks to change this disbalance. The new vision created in Newark is guided by the perspective toward street violence as a public health problem fueled by trauma, inadequate social services, and the perpetual cycle of violence.

Policing is seen as not a separate institution but an integral part of the system that includes housing, education, employment, and hospitalization. All these elements shape life events and outcomes and predict crime. For this reason, Newark decides to shift its focus from fighting to preventing crime by creating an environment in which social and familial bonds will put constraints on criminal activity over the life course. Such an approach draws on the theory of social control and the developmental theory of crime.

Policing Reimagined

One of the reasons why George Floyd’s case has been so resonant in the United States is the presence of footage depicting the act of police brutality and the eventual death of the victim from start to finish. The question followed as to whether the killing was an isolated event due to the personal failings of Derek Chauvin or part of a bigger, more insidious problem whose revelation is prevented by the lack of video evidence. When it comes to police fatalities, there are significant gaps in data collection and analysis (Jawando & Parsons, 2014). For this reason, it is extremely challenging to assess the scope of the issue at the national, state, and local level.

The present section proposes a wider adoption of body-worn cameras (BWCs) that has already received a lot of public support (Jawando & Parsons, 2014). Though available across the country, BWCs have been made mandatory by less than half of all police agencies. Widespread use of BWSs promises to reduce police misbehavior, substantiate citizen complaints, and advance the investigation. The initiative draws on the assumptions of the environmental theory of crime developed by Feld and Brantingham. The theory suggests that crime is influenced by the circumstances of a person’s spatial environment (Brantingham & Brantingham, 1993).

It has long been established that certain areas are more criminogenic than others, and upon further investigation, one typically discovers that the said areas do not have sufficient surveillance and protection (Brantingham & Brantingham, 1993). It is possible that police officers misbehave because they know that there will be no evidence. In this case, the lack of body-worn cameras may predispose certain employees to use excessive force when handling civilians.

Literature Review

Body-worn cameras (BWC) is a well-researched intervention with an extensive body of scientific literature to support it. Mascaly et al. (2017) and Lum et al. (2019) provide a state-of-the-art review of existing research on the use of body-worn cameras by the police force. The scholars conclude that multiple sources hint at the benefits of BWCs such as citizens’ increased willingness to report crimes to the police, lower rates of force use (up to a 37% reduction), and a reduction in response-to-resistance incidents as well as serious external complaints.

The findings made by Ariel et al. (2015) draw a similar picture. Ariel et al. (2015) conducted a randomized control study in which officers in the “treatment group” were equipped with body-worn HD cameras recording all their interactions with the public during their usual shift. The officers who wore BWCs were less inclined to use force; the experiment has also led to plummeting citizen complaint rates from 0.7 per 1,000 contacts to 0.07 per 1,000 contacts. Ariel et al. (2015) suggest that the study may offer law enforcement a useful method for behavioral modification that will not only deter the incidence of force response but also increase citizens’ trust in the police.

BWCs have the potential of yielding long-term benefits lasting years after the initial introduction. A longitudinal randomized control study by White et al. (2017) confirms this assumption. The scholars recruited 150 officers from the Spokane (WA) Police Department and assigned half of them to the intervention group, which meant that they had to wear BWCs. The scholars could observe improvements even three years after the deployment. The share of officers with a complaint was lowered by 78% in the intervention group while the percentage of officers who used force responses fell by 39%. Despite a commonly held view that BWCs trigger aggression, White et al. (2017) recorded no injuries related to the use of technology.

Despite the documented advantages of body-worn cameras, one cannot dismiss studies that suggest otherwise. Yokum et al. (2017) investigated the effects of BWCs in one of the largest US police departments with almost four thousand sworn members and a resident population of over 680,000. The scholars carried out a randomized controlled trial in which 2,224 Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers in Washington, DC were randomly assigned to the control and intervention groups. The latter wore BWCs as they proceeded with their daily professional duties. It was specified that the participants in the intervention group had to turn on their BWCs at the start of any call on their mobile data computer (MDC) self-initiated police action.

Yokum et al. (2017) concluded that the use of BWCs did not significantly affect any of the four dependent variables: police use of force, civilian complaints, policing activity, and judicial outcomes. There may be multiple explanations for such an outcome, ranging from officers’ general non-adherence to the positive changes that had already been made to the police department reducing the added value of BWCs. The study findings suggest tempering expectations of widespread use of BWCs and focusing on specific policing scenarios in which they may come in handy. All in all, BWCs are not the end-all-be-all of police crime deterrence and may have to be accompanied by further measures.


Ariel, B., Farrar, W. A., & Sutherland, A. (2015). The effect of police body-worn cameras on use of force and citizens’ complaints against the police: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 31(3), 509-535.

Brantingham, P. L., & Brantingham, P. J. (1993). Environment, routine and situation: Toward a pattern theory of crime. Advances in Criminological Theory, 5(2), 259-294.

Chiueh, D. (2020). . Long Island Press. Web.

Hirschi, T. (1986). On the compatibility of rational choice and social control theories of crime. The Reasoning Criminal: Rational Choice Perspectives on Offending, 105-118.

Hudson, B. (2016). Justice Through Punishment?: Critique of the Justice Model of Criminal Conventions. Macmillan International Higher Education.

Jawando, M.L., & Parsons, C. (2014). 4 Ideas That Could Begin to Reform the Criminal Justice System and Improve Police-Community Relations. Center for American Progress. Web.

Kirk, D. S., & Wakefield, S. (2018). Collateral consequences of punishment: A critical review and path forward. Annual Review of Criminology, 1, 171-194.

Lanier, M. M. (2018). Essential criminology. Routledge.

Lea, J. (2016). Left Realism: A radical criminology for the current crisis. International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 5(3), 53.

Lum, C., Stoltz, M., Koper, C. S., & Scherer, J. A. (2019). Research on body‐worn cameras: What we know, what we need to know. Criminology & public policy, 18(1), 93-118.

Maskaly, J., Donner, C., Jennings, W. G., Ariel, B., & Sutherland, A. (2017). The effects of body-worn cameras (BWCs) on police and citizen outcomes. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 40(4), 672-688.

McGee, T. R., & Farrington, D. P. (2016). Developmental and life-course theories of crime. The handbook of criminological theory, 336-354.

Thorne, K. (2020). . Eyewitness News. Web.

Zehr, H. (2015). The little book of restorative justice: Revised and updated. Simon and Schuster.

Yokum, D., Ravishankar, A., & Coppock, A. (2017). Evaluating the effects of police body-worn cameras. Washington, DC: The [email protected] DC, 20, 1-32.

White, M. D., Gaub, J. E., & Todak, N. (2018). Exploring the potential for body-worn cameras to reduce violence in police–citizen encounters. Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, 12(1), 66-76.

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