NotesVolume 9, Issue 1 (2018)

Is It Recording?—Racial Bias, Police Accountability, and the Body-Worn Camera Activation Policies of the Ten Largest Metropolitan Police Departments in the USA

Julian R. Murphy

Columbia Law School, Postgraduate Public Interest Fellow
Citation:9 COLUM. J. RACE & L. 141


In recent years, there has been a growing belief that the pressing problem of racial bias in policing might be ameliorated by a technical fix—namely, police body-worn cameras. Accordingly, body-worn cameras have been introduced in police departments across the country, giving rise to a variety of different internal guidelines and policies. This Note surveys the body-worn camera policies of the ten largest metropolitan police departments in the United States in order to assess their relative effectiveness at combatting racial bias. Particular attention is paid to “activation” requirements, which specify the sorts of events police officers are required to record on their cameras. The survey shows that, at present, many body-worn camera policies are not appropriately calibrated to successfully reduce racial bias in policing. In particular, this Note suggests that many current body-worn camera policies do not adequately target two different strains of racial bias: implicit racial bias and deliberate racial profiling. This Note concludes by offering a draft activation policy for potential adoption by police departments to better use body-worn cameras to reduce racially biased police practices.