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The Camera Lies—Even When Cops Wear It

New research suggests recordings of violent incidents don’t help to clarify whether a police officer’s use of force is justified.

By Tom Jacobs


(Illustration: Elias Stein)

More and more police officers are wearing body cameras. But do recordings of violent incidents help clarify whether an officer’s use of fatal force on a suspect was justified? New research suggests not.

In a study published in The Yale Law Journal, 246 Americans weighed in on an actual altercation after learning about it in one of four ways: watching a video of the event or reading one of three descriptions — a first-person account by the officer, a depiction by a third party, or a document in which the officer and the citizen provide dueling accounts. The researcher reports participants’ “prior attitudes toward police significantly affected their judgments of the officer’s conduct,” and their interpretation of what happened was no less biased if they watched the incident unfold. Like any other piece of information, we view such videos through the filter of our own biases.