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22 June 2023

Body-worn cameras could strengthen democracy in Latin America

New policy brief recommends governments and police forces in Latin America adopt body-worn cameras to restore public trust, accountability and strengthen democracy.

KODLA Policy Brief 2023

The policy brief "Improving democracy, accountability, transparency and legitimacy within police forces: A case study of body-worn cameras in the São Paulo State Military Police" published by Dr Vinicius De Carvalho and Beatrice Rossano from King's Observatory of Democracy in Latin America (KODLA), presents findings on the implementation of body-worn cameras as a tool to enhance evidence gathering, reduce complaints, and promote transparency.   

"Countries where police forces have been instruments of repression and oppression require a systemic approach for transforming the mentality about the roles and tasks of these police forces. This must occur simultaneously within the police forces, the whole public security apparatus of the state and the civilian population. Promoting accountability and responsibility, police forces will build trust and confidence in the population"

Vinicius De Carvalho

Based on extensive fieldwork conducted between May and June 2022, the publication offers insights into the practical and legal implications of body-worn cameras implementation within the São Paulo Military Police, which has faced significant challenges in maintaining legitimacy, particularly following an incident in 2019 that involved unwarranted use of force resulting in nine deaths.  

"Police forces throughout the world are undergoing an acute crisis of legitimacy. For instance, US police departments multiplied their adoption of body-worn cameras following substantial pressure from public opinion in the face of events of national repercussions. The most recent high-profile case was the use of body-worn camera footage in Derek Chauvin's trial for the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020. The collected footage showed Chauvin's approach from several angles and was instrumental in his prison sentence. Notwithstanding, body-worn camera footage has also been used to prove police officers' innocence when acting in legitimate defence"

Beatrice Rossano

While the study acknowledges that this technology alone cannot solve the broader issues surrounding police practices, it is considered a relevant instrument for ensuring coherence and legality within the force. The cameras are expected to encourage behavioural changes in police-citizen interactions, provide internal and external scrutiny of police actions, and protect citizens and officers from accusations of abuse.

For Beatrice Rossano, this technology is here to stay as they are not merely a cosmetic 'add-on' to pursuing 'business as usual', and investments are not thrown to the wind. "It is crucial that clear objectives and evaluation mechanisms for camera use are set out before implementation. If this is not carried out, it will become very difficult to evaluate their effectiveness and enforce basic planning aspects such as training designs and internal and external information campaigns", she adds.

The publication is part of the policy paper series by KODLA, a multidisciplinary platform composed of academics from King's and other universities in the UK, Europe and Latin America to promote research that will impact policy in the Latin American region on topics related to public policy and democracy.

Read the publication here.

In this story

Vinicius  de Carvalho

Reader in Brazilian and Latin American Studies