Police body cameras filmed Tyre Nichols’ killing. But they were supposed to prevent it in the first place.

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Police surveillance and body cameras captured the killing of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols by officers in Memphis, Tennessee, in stark and gruesome detail. The footage Memphis police released Friday shows officers punching, kicking, and pepper spraying Nichols, as well as striking him with a police baton. Nichols died three days after the Jan. 7 attack.

Memphis prosecutors have now charged five officers with Nichols’ murder and other crimes, based in part off the body camera footage. But the case is a stark reminder that such cameras, now used widely in the U.S. and touted as a way to reduce officer misconduct, have a decidedly mixed track record.

Body camera footage has been used to prosecute officers in high-profile cases of excessive force — including the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd. But studies split over whether the cameras actually deter police misbehavior. A meta-analysis of 70 studies in 2019 found no evidence that body cameras significantly reduced police misconduct, while a 2021 study found a small but measurable drop in the use of force by officers wearing cameras.

“When body cameras were first rolled out in large numbers starting in 2016, there was a hope that they would help to advance public safety because police officers would behave better if they knew their actions were being monitored and recorded,” said Chad Marlow, senior policy counsel at the ACLU. “The murder of Tyre Nichols provides yet more proof that those hopeful predictions were wrong. In hindsight, body cameras have proven to have a limited and inconsistent value when it comes to holding officers accountable for their misconduct, and virtually no beneficial effect in preventing misconduct in the first place.”





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