As law enforcement increasingly uses body-worn cameras, researchers are studying the roles of camera design and perspective.
Approaching police body cameras from a design and ergonomics perspective is just one example of the ways researchers are starting to delve into the bigger questions associated with body cameras, from artificial intelligence analysis to perspective bias.
David Makin, a criminologist at Washington State University in Pullman, co-founded the Complex Social Interactions (CSI) Lab. Makin is designing algorithms and software to analyze body-worn camera footage. One of the main issues, he says, is that body cam footage is just that — footage. “So you have thousands or tens of thousands of hours that doesn’t get looked at. It gets looked at when there’s an issue, and that’s it.”
Makin sees potential in that raw video. “If we think of it as data, we can deconstruct it and analyze it,” he said. “Then we can approach it as improving training, and improving risk management. Once you see it as data, there is no limit to how beneficial this can be to law enforcement organizations.”
Makin’s CSI Lab has analyzed thousands of police-community interactions on video and numerous records from law enforcement incidents to identify, code and catalog key variables associated with a range of outcomes, positive to negative. Location, lighting, time of day, number of people present, gender, race, verbal and physical stress, and intensity of the interaction are among the contextual factors assessed.