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But did they get it “right”? Deadly force, body-worn camera footage, and hindsight bias

Sean Patrick Roche (School of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas, USA)
Danielle M. Fenimore (Police Executive Research Forum, Washington, District of Columbia, USA)
Paul Taylor (School of Public Affairs, University of Colorado Denver, Denver, Colorado, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 13 May 2022

Issue publication date: 22 July 2022

226

Abstract

Purpose

American police agencies' swift adoption of body-worn camera (BWC) technology, coupled with the ubiquity of smartphones and social media, has led to a “new visibility” of policing. Video recordings are often touted as objective evidentiary accounts of police-civilian interactions. Yet even these recordings are rarely seen in a vacuum, but instead accompanied by headlines and accounts.

Design/methodology/approach

Using a diverse sample of young American adults (N = 943) and an experimental design incorporating a short poorly recorded BWC video embedded within a survey, this study investigates perceptions of the appropriateness of police behavior in an ambiguous situation where officers used deadly force on a Black civilian. All respondents viewed the same video, but were randomly assigned to one of four ultimate outcomes.

Findings

Respondents overwhelmingly reported the BWC video was personally important and significant for a subsequent investigation and public opinion. The experimental manipulation, along with background factors, exerted a substantial effect on perceptions of the officers' actions. Respondents found the officers' actions more appropriate when told the civilian held a weapon.

Originality/value

Americans are divided on the role of police in a democratic society. Objective accounts like video recordings may be used to build consensus, but our results, derived from a novel method and dataset, suggest deeper cognitive biases must also be overcome.

Keywords

Citation

Roche, S.P., Fenimore, D.M. and Taylor, P. (2022), "But did they get it “right”? Deadly force, body-worn camera footage, and hindsight bias", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 45 No. 4, pp. 618-632. https://doi.org/10.1108/PIJPSM-09-2021-0126

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited

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