Look there! The effect of perspective, attention, and instructions on how people understand recorded police encounters

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Now more than ever, body cameras, surveillance footage, dash-cam footage, and bystanders with phones enable people to see for themselves officer and civilian behavior and determine the justifiability of officers' actions. This paper examines whether the camera perspective from which people watch police encounters influences the conclusions that people draw. Consistent with recent findings showing that body camera footage leads people to perceive officers' actions as less intentional (Turner, Caruso, Dilich, & Roese, 2019), our first study demonstrates that participants who watched body-camera footage, compared with people who watched surveillance footage of the same encounter, perceived the officer's behavior as being more justified and made more lenient punishment decisions. In our second study, only one of the four police encounters that participants watched led participants to perceive the officer more favorably when they watched body-camera footage compared with bystander footage. Our results demonstrate that some body-camera footage—specifically videos that capture an officer using his or her body to apprehend a civilian—can lead to biased perceptions of police encounters that benefit the officer. Our findings suggest that this occurs because: (i) in body-camera footage, the civilian is the more easily visible figure, thus making less salient the officer's role in the encounter; and (ii) the body camera—attached to an officer's uniform—is unable to adequately capture certain use of force movements that are important in determining an officer's intent.




Jones, K. A., Crozier, W. E., & Strange, D. (2019). Look there! The effect of perspective, attention, and instructions on how people understand recorded police encounters. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 37(6), 711–731. https://doi.org/10.1002/bsl.2441

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