Journal of Quantitative Criminology

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 509–535 | Cite as

The Effect of Police Body-Worn Cameras on Use of Force and Citizens’ Complaints Against the Police: A Randomized Controlled Trial

  • Barak ArielEmail author
  • William A. Farrar
  • Alex Sutherland
Original Paper



Police use-of-force continues to be a major source of international concern, inviting interest from academics and practitioners alike. Whether justified or unnecessary/excessive, the exercise of power by the police can potentially tarnish their relationship with the community. Police misconduct can translate into complaints against the police, which carry large economic and social costs. The question we try to answer is: do body-worn-cameras reduce the prevalence of use-of-force and/or citizens’ complaints against the police?


We empirically tested the use of body-worn-cameras by measuring the effect of videotaping police–public encounters on incidents of police use-of-force and complaints, in randomized-controlled settings. Over 12 months, we randomly-assigned officers to “experimental-shifts” during which they were equipped with body-worn HD cameras that recorded all contacts with the public and to “control-shifts” without the cameras (n = 988). We nominally defined use-of-force, both unnecessary/excessive and reasonable, as a non-desirable response in police–public encounters. We estimate the causal effect of the use of body-worn-videos on the two outcome variables using both between-group differences using a Poisson regression model as well as before-after estimates using interrupted time-series analyses.


We found that the likelihood of force being used in control conditions were roughly twice those in experimental conditions. Similarly, a pre/post analysis of use-of-force and complaints data also support this result: the number of complaints filed against officers dropped from 0.7 complaints per 1,000 contacts to 0.07 per 1,000 contacts. We discuss the findings in terms of theory, research methods, policy and future avenues of research on body-worn-videos.


Technology Deterrence theory Use-of-force Police Randomized controlled field trial Body-worn-cameras 



We wish to alphabetically thank Badi Hasisi, Daniel Nagin, David Weisburd, Joel Garner, Justice Tankebe, Lawrence Sherman, Neil Wain, Phillip Dawid and the anonymous reviewers of earlier drafts of this manuscript for their tremendously helpful comments. Funding for this research was granted by Rialto Police and the Jerry Lee Centre of Experimental Criminology.

Supplementary material

10940_2014_9236_MOESM1_ESM.docx (19 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 19 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barak Ariel
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • William A. Farrar
    • 3
    • 4
  • Alex Sutherland
    • 5
    • 6
  1. 1.Institute of Criminology, Faculty of LawHebrew UniversityJerusalemIsrael
  2. 2.Institute of CriminologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  3. 3.Rialto Police DepartmentRialtoUSA
  4. 4.Cantab, Police Executive Programme, Institute of CriminologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  5. 5.RAND EuropeWestbrook CentreCambridgeUK
  6. 6.Institute of CriminologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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