AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new study from the University of Texas at Austin found monitoring certain employees on the job doesn’t always have negative effects.
Shefali Patil has spent the last seven years studying the psychology of how police are dealing with increased scrutiny.
The assistant professor with the McCombs School of Business at UT said there are benefits to police body cameras that haven’t been studied before.
“It decreases people’s sense of polarization and conflict with those they serve,” said Patil.
She came to this conclusion after running an experiment with a police department on the East Coast.
Patil and her team surveyed 150 officers before and after they started wearing body cameras. Many officers said they felt like they had as much autonomy and freedom as they once had.
“But then there was this really interesting positive side where they actually started feeling a lot less antagonistic towards the public,” said Patil. “They felt they were better able to come up with a mutual understanding between themselves and the public.”
Patil took it a step further to see the psychological effects in action.
She says officers from two other police departments sent her more than 800 random clips of body camera footage. She asked retired police commanders, unfamiliar with the agencies, to view and rate the officers’ behavior. The officers also rated their own actions.
The questions included: How respectful are you toward citizens, and how proactive are you at creating a positive image of law enforcement?
Researchers found officers were more respectful in situations where they reported lessened feelings of polarization – situations like officers going out of their way to explain procedures, such as why somebody was stopped, rather than just proceeding without explanation.
“Body cameras provide a way to be honest about what we’re doing and the way we do it,” said Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association.
He said when body cameras and even dash cameras first came on the scene, there was a sense of fear among officers. But ultimately, Lawrence said the majority of the time the video shows officers are not doing anything wrong.