Police body cameras could lead to more drug arrests, says Baker Institute expert

Police body cameras could lead officers to make more arrests for minor offenses like drug possession, according to a drug policy expert at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that 60% of local police departments and 49% of sheriffs’ offices had fully implemented body-worn cameras. In cases of excessive use of force, this additional oversight is generally welcomed by the public, but there is another concern body camera advocates may not have considered.

“To the extent that the camera’s surveillance is used to censure officers for not taking action, it may also have the effect of encouraging officers to make self-protecting arrests that they could have let slide — an outcome likely to be viewed less favorably by communities that feel overpoliced,” said Katharine Neill Harris, the Alfred C. Glassell, III, Fellow in Drug Policy at the institute.

“Drug possession cases, which compared to most other types of cases are less likely to have a victim and more likely to have hard evidence of a law being broken, could be especially impacted by changes in officer discretion at the point of arrest,” Neill Harris wrote in a new post for the redesigned Baker Institute blog that was unveiled this summer.

“Drug possession arrests also disproportionately impact the same communities of color that have advocated most strongly for body cameras as a mechanism to address overpolicing in their neighborhoods,” Neill Harris wrote. “Any increase in such arrests then, even a small one, would run counter to the objectives of these communities, making the question of whether there is a relationship between body-worn cameras and drug arrests an important one.”

“To ensure that body-worn camera-equipped officers don’t feel like they have to make a drug arrest to avoid disciplinary action, a relatively simple fix would be to state explicitly in departmental policy that officers have the discretion to decline arrests in low-level drug possession cases, as they already have for some low-level misdemeanors,” Neill Harris wrote.

Post time: Aug-15-2019
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