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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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