“Contagious Accountability”: A Global Multisite Randomized Controlled Trial on the Effect of Police Body-Worn Cameras on Citizens’ Complaints Against the Police

Barak Ariel*, Alex Sutherland, Darren Henstock, Josh Young, Paul Drover, Jayne Sykes, Simon Megicks, Ryan Henderson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

124 Scopus citations

Abstract

The use of body-worn cameras (BWCs) by the police is rising. One proposed effect of BWCs is reducing complaints against police, which assumes that BWCs reduce officer noncompliance with procedures, improve suspects’ demeanor, or both, leading to fewer complaints. We report results from a global, multisite randomized controlled trial on whether BWC use reduces citizens’ complaints. Seven discrete tests (N = 1,847 officers), with police shifts as the unit of analysis (N = 4,264), were randomly assigned into treatment and control conditions. Using a prospective meta-analytic approach, we found a 93% before–after reduction in complaint incidence (Z = −3.234; p <.001), but no significant differences between trial arms in the studies (d =.053, SE =.11; 95% confidence interval [CI] = [−.163,.269]), and little between-site variation (Q = 4.905; p =.428). We discuss these results in terms of an “observer effect” that influences both officers’ and citizens’ behavior and assess what we interpret as treatment diffusion between experimental and control conditions within the framework of “contagious accountability.”

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)293-316
Number of pages24
JournalCriminal Justice and Behavior
Volume44
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, © 2016 International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology.

Keywords

  • accountability
  • body-worn cameras
  • complaints
  • multisite randomized controlled trial
  • policing

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