The past few years have seen an increase in attention to the issue of police brutality.
Heavily debated, the idea of required dash and body cameras on officers has been proposed as a solution. By offering an objective account of an incident, the theory is that video evidence would eliminate personal biases. A perfect solution, right? Unfortunately, that may be less true than people think.
One of the root causes of bias in present day America is the “us versus them” mentality that clouds people’s ability to make impartial assessments of situations. In a study done in 2014 by researchers at New York University and Yale Law School, it was found that video evidence may actually enforce these personal biases. The team of researchers showed a video of an altercation between a civilian and an officer to a group of participants, with no indication of who was in the wrong.
Of the participants that looked at the civilian more than the officer, there was no perceived bias related to either party’s social group (i.e. race, gender, etc.) Alternatively, it was found that “among those people that looked most often at the officer, social identification with police determined punishment.” It was observed that “People who felt strongly identified with police were much more lenient toward the officer than people less identified with police.” This study found that, not only does the focus of the observer change the decision made, but personal biases still play a major role in the punishment assigned.
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Video surveillance can also have an effect on a person’s understanding of facts. In another study, participants were confronted by psychologists and told that they stole money during a previous session, which both parties knew was untrue. Once the participants denied that they had stolen the money, the psychologists showed doctored footage of the participant committing the crime. They found that “Despite knowing better than anyone that they hadn’t taken the money, participants who saw the doctored footage were more likely than those who merely knew footage existed to report believing they had acted illicitly.” With the knowledge that they had not stolen the money, some participants would actually doubt themselves enough to sign a confession attesting to a crime they did not commit. This study shows that video surveillance may make people believe completely false claims.
In conclusion, surveillance footage taken from dash and body cameras is not as effective at clarifying events as people may believe. This is not to say that video evidence is not valuable. In many situations, surveillance footage is a useful tool for removing doubt when one party is clearly at fault. When the situation is more ambiguous, the effect on objectivity must be taken into consideration. Videos can be lacking in context, and so measures must be taken to ensure that the effects of bias are minimized.
Granot, Yael, and Emily Balcetis. "More Than Meets the Eye: How Video Evidence Alters
Our Decision Making." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 16 Oct. 2014.
Web. 30 Apr. 2016.