Self-Awareness to Being Watched and Socially-Desirable Behavior: A Field Experiment on the Effect of Body-Worn Cameras on Police Use-of-Force

Publication Date

March 2013


Tony Farrar


The purpose of this study was to test whether police body-worn cameras would lead to socially desirable behavior of the officers who wear them. Individualized HD cameras were “installed” on the officers’ uniforms, and systematically-recorded every police-public interaction. The research team randomly assigned a year’s worth of police shifts into experimental and control shifts within a large randomized-controlled-field-experiment conducted with the Rialto Police Department. The team investigated the extent to which cameras affect human behavior and reduce the use of police force, put to test the implication of self-awareness to being observed on compliance and deterrence theory in real-life settings, and explored the results in the wider context of theory and practice. The findings suggest more than a 50% reduction in the total number of incidents of use-of-force compared to control-conditions, and nearly ten times more citizens’ complaints in the 12-months prior to the experiment.

Research Design

Randomized controlled trial (RCT)

Research Methods

Field-based experiment

Recommended Citation

Farrar, T. (2013). Self-awareness to being watched and socially-desirable behavior: A field experiment on the effect of body-worn cameras on police use-of-force. National Policing Institute.