Atlanta, GA

Atlanta study finds body cameras close racial gap in police misconduct investigations

LaShaun Williams

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ATLANTA, GA — The latest research conducted by criminologists and economists at Georgia State, in collaboration with American and Stockton universities, shows that video footage captured by police-worn body cameras is closing racial gaps in police misconduct investigations.

“Police bodycams, when they’re turned on, even the playing field by introducing objective evidence into the investigation of complaints about police behavior,” said Volkan Topalli, professor at Georgia State University.

“This technology now helps eliminate ambiguities and conflicting accounts among Black and Hispanic complainants more often than whites, narrowing proven disparities among racial lines,” he added.

Topalli and his co-worker studied complaint data by the citizen in the Chicago Police Department between 2012 and 2020. They examined if the video captured will affect different outcomes of complaints based on the race of the person.

Before using the bodycams, evidence shows that the Chicago PD citizen complaint investigations process produced biased outcomes. A total of 111,000 complaints were filed against the department’s officers between January 2000 and June 2015, and only 2.1 percent were “sustained”, which means the allegation was supported by evidence indicating the incident did occur and the officer’s conduct was inappropriate.

During this period, only 1.6 percent of Black residents’ complaints were sustained, compared to an overall rate of 2.6 percent.

The deployment of bodycams was linked with a 9.9 percent point increase in the probability of a sustained finding. That is two-thirds more frequently than the mean for non-bodycam incidents. It also led to a 16.2 percent decrease in the dismissal of investigations due to insufficient evidence and a notable increase in disciplinary actions against police officers when evidence is sufficient. The racial disparities in not sustained findings chiefly went away.

“Police bodycams provide information that changes the outcome of complaint investigations,” Topalli stated. “Although cultural acceptance of this technology as ‘business as usual’ may take some time and effort, its adoption helps establish an important accountability process for law enforcement and can improve citizen trust in the police, particularly in communities that have experienced biased oversight.”

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