Deploying Officer Body-Worn Cameras in Phoenix

August 8, 2014

In 2010, the Phoenix City Manager’s Office led a task force to address citizen concern about the interaction between the police and the public. The result was the development of 34 recommendations designed to increase communication with, and confidence in, the police. One recommendation called for a pilot program to deploy dash cameras and a small-scale pilot to test the feasibility of using body cameras instead of dash cameras.

The Phoenix Police Department (PPD) applied for and received federal funding through the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s (BJA) Smart Policing Initiative to conduct a large-scale pilot study to understand issues and challenges associated with a department-wide deployment of body cameras.

The project was implemented in the in PPD’s Maryvale Police Precinct. This precinct has 100 patrol officers assigned to one of two squad areas, it is 15 square miles with approximately 115,000 residents and has high rates of both property and violent crime. Half of the officers were assigned body cameras; the other half of the officers served as the comparison group.

Officer training and camera deployment was relatively seamless, while managing the data officers capture is appreciably more challenging. All videos associated with a criminal prosecution must be made available for discovery purposes; it is imperative City and County prosecutors are invited to participate in the establishment of policies and procedures governing the management of video evidence.

Initial analysis of self-reported pre- and post-test data collected from police officers suggested following the deployment of body cameras, officers were significantly more likely to believe the body camera equipment was comfortable to wear and easy to use. However, a high proportion of officers indicated they did not believe that body cameras should be adopted by other police agencies and had concern about their potential negative impact on police officers.

Officers believed the cameras would be used as a tool to identify misconduct not associated with a citizen complaint. Officers believed supervisors would go on “fishing expeditions” to identify minor policy violations that would not have come to light if video did not exist.

Despite the officers’ concerns, an analysis of arrest data indicated officer productivity increased dramatically after officers were assigned body cameras, compared to the comparison group. Following the deployment of body cameras, the average daily number of arrests increased approximately 16 percent.

Over that same period of time, complaints against officers who wore a camera declined significantly compared to those who did not. The data showed complaints declined by about 44 percent. A similar trend was observed in self-reported data with officers who wore a camera self-reporting 60 percent fewer complaints during a 30-day period.

PPD continues to use officer body-worn cameras in the Maryvale Precinct and has plans to expand their use in the precinct in the upcoming year.

For more information about PPD’s use of officer body-worn cameras, visit