Police Body-Worn Cameras: An Overview

Forty-three years ago, Albert Reiss Jr., in his now classic book The Police and the Public, commented on the lack of official documentation on most police officer–citizen contacts. He suggested that citizens should receive a receipt from the police documenting the particulars of all contacts. Reiss believed the receipt would serve to benefit both the citizen and the officer by documenting the contact and what occurred between the officer and the citizen.1 Although his suggestion never came to fruition, it may well be on the way to widespread implementation, albeit in a slightly different manner. Technology has evolved tremendously since Reiss proposed the official police contact receipt. In today’s police world, that official police contact receipt may come to life via body-worn cameras (BWCs) with the recordings of police–citizen contacts serving as digital “receipts.”

The recent events in Missouri brought the discussion of BWCs on police officers to center stage in the United States. If the officer had been wearing a BWC, would it have resolved the ambiguity surrounding the incident? One can only speculate, but the evidence is clear that the use of BWCs by police is gaining momentum and is likely to continue to grow.