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Body Cams and Unforeseen Consequences

The only true answer to the police/black citizen conflicts is for officers to build trust during the endless personal interactions they have with blacks. Body cameras have great value, but may become a ‘quick fix,’ that allows chiefs and sheriffs to escape accountability for not having developed cultures in which personnel want to patrol with kindness and garner trust, even in hostile communities. Body cameras may have the unintended consequence of the conflict never being resolved.

The report issued by the “

President’s Task Force on 21 Century Policing” can be the blueprint for what policing needs for improving relationships with black communities. Task force members did an exceptional job, but the question of whether agencies will implement the suggestions is doubtful


Since the best predictor of future performance is pertinent past behavior, the outcomes to previous national commissions on police

offer an insight for the short term.

President Johnson’s Commission on Law Enforcement made hundreds of recommendations in 1967, but many chiefs and sheriffs did not practice them

. The 1972 Knapp Commission on Police Corruption, Christopher Commission in 1991, and Mollen Commission in 1992 met a similar fate from administrators other than Los Angeles and New York City. 

I have instructed officers

in several states this year. They gave chilly

, somewhat cynical

feedback to the suggestions

of the

President’s Task Force on 21Century Policing.” Their reaction was

disappointing, but not surprising

since employees tend to become jaded, regardless of the profession. 


The Unacknowledged Obstacle

Many of the officers who have not been receptive to the recommendations of the national

commissions feel unappreciated and frustrated. Virtually all officers and deputies experience

more negative stress from their agency than from simply doing their job. It is harder for officers

to convey kindness and understanding toward aggressive, argumentative

people when the officer is already frustrated and cynical about their work environment. 


As a profession, law enforcement needs to take the lead in repairing racial hostility, but many cynical officers are skeptical. They call de-escalation training “Hug a Thug” instruction. Their viewpoint will not change until administrators address the reasons for the cynicism;

the poor communication, bad morale, and lack of trust. The likelihood that officers will work to build trust

during their contacts with black citizens will

increase when personnel realize their leaders are fixing the problems that demoralize them.


The Danger

Body cameras have extraordinary

value. Every agency should have them. Community programs such as “breakfast with a cop” also have great benefit. They are not,


, a lasting solution to the police/black citizen clashes. Although cameras are excellent documentation of conflict, they will not stop it. Moreover, they create the danger that police leaders will accept body cameras as a sufficient resolution, and then never work on the real countermeasure. The actual answer is complicated and time-consuming, but achievable. 


The Answer

Fractured racial relations with law enforcement will exist until blacks trust their police. There is no quick

way to accomplish this.

Some police officers are good

at building trusting relationship as they are warm, caring people. Others are not. The needed level of confidence will only come when officers take advantage of their endless opportunities to build trust during personal contact with blacks. Undoing decades of distrust requires years of positive police/citizen interactions. 

Most sheriffs and police chiefs are very dedicated and will still work tirelessly to build the needed trust, but some administrators will not. Deadly incidents and racial disturbances will continue until top law enforcement leaders follow a standardized plan that first resolves the problem’s “root causes” and acknowledges in some cities resolution will take years, in others it may require decades. 

Until then, death and division will continue.   


The Plan 

The steps in resolving this are as numerous as the issue is complex: 1) Conduct a confidential employee survey


morale, communication,

and employee trust;

2) Administrators

lead meetings with workers

to discuss survey findings; 3) Goals to improve employee communication, trust and morale are established; and 4) E

mployee groups are established to accomplish the goals.

Then, 5) Conduct quality de-escalation training, including discussion of how top leaders are holding themselves accountable for fixing problems. Officers should commit to developing trusting relationships with people of color, and 6) written

“progressive discipline” policies are consistently enforced

. Infractions such as discourtesy with citizens are sometimes not imposed by sergeants. Some supervisors want to be liked

more than they want

to be a leader


Then, 7) Personnel who continually

show kindness toward citizens are given

awards and high

consideration for promotions and transfers, citizen compliments, performance evaluations,

and internal commendations are tracked and 8) Employees establish performance standards for themselves. They commit to taking the first step to having more productive conversations with black citizens.


Decisions With Huge

Impact For the Future

The choices we make reveal the true nature of our character. Whether America will have less 

police/black citizen conflict in the future is dependent upon the decisions of three groups.

Will law enforcement administrators conduct employee surveys on morale, communication, and trust, then achieve goals to enhance them? In doing so, they will role-model self-accountability. Will officers hold themselves accountable for replacing hostility with trusting relationships, while on patrol? Will people of color be receptive toward the police who are trying to overcome the racial divide?


Neal Trautman, Ph.D., was a police officer for 16 years, has authored 10 books, written 64 articles, chaired the IACP Ethics Training Committee, co-chaired the IACP Police Image and Ethics Committee, and has instructed over 1,000 seminars and conference presentations. He may be reached at

Published in Law and Order, Mar 2016

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