The Uruguay National Traffic Police body-worn cameras experiment

Table of Contents:

Trial design

To test for camera-induced passivity unconditional of the Ferguson effect, we turned to a test of de-policing in the context of BWCs with the Uruguay Traffic National Police Department (UNTF).1 Because the study was national, with different geographic locations, management streams and organizational cultures, we employed a block randomized crossover controlled field trial, involving 208 traffic officers, in five discrete regional subdivisions (hence the blocking criterion). The unit of analysis, similar to previous experiments (Ariel et al. 2015; 2016b), was the officer shift, as we explain below, which was allocated on a 1:1 basis (i.e., equal allocation ratio). This means that officer shifts were randomly assigned into treatment and control conditions within each geographic block. Each officer served as his own control. The experiment ran for a period of 256 days in total, ending on March 26, 2017.

Notably, unlike previous experiments in this area (e.g., Ariel et al. 2016b), nearly all police-public contacts of UNTF are police-initiated. The very nature of traffic policing is initiating contact with members of the public. These non-dispatched runs, such as traffic enforcement or reacting to street crime, are at the discretion of the patrolling officer. This type of law enforcement therefore presents itself with optimal settings to study de-policing and the potential role of BWCs in this phenomenon.


We collaborated with the Uruguay Ministry of Interior in a national experiment on the effect of BWCs on policing, particularly in the area of traffic policing. Uruguay is located in South America, with approximately 3.5 million inhabitants. The Republic of Uruguay is populated by roughly 3,500,000 residents, from a wide range of socioeconomic levels but with a limited range of ethnicities compared with other Latin-American nations. The majority of its population is white (88 percent), 47.1 percent are Roman Catholic, and the country rates high for most social and development indicators such as liberal social laws, well-developed social security, health, educational systems, and relatively strong GDP per capita ($20,300; CIA Factbook 2016).

According to the United States State Department (2019), Uruguay experiences high crime levels compared with the United States, particularly violence, burglaries, and robberies. In terms of traffic accidents, the World Health Organization (2014) ranks Uruguay seventy-eighth worldwide, with 667 deaths in 2014 alone. Poor illumination, pavement markings, and road surfaces are contributing factors to traffic accidents. Similarly, reduced amount of timely police patrol availability in rural areas is a concern, especially in primary roads between the capital Montevideo and tourist destinations, like Punta del Este, due to heavy tourist traffic and speed-related accidents.

We collaborated with five out of 19 regions in the republic of Uruguay, which have had the highest number of traffic citations during the pre-test period (Ministry of Interior, Republic of Uraguay 2015). The largest of the regions that a separate police station patrols is Area Metropolitan. It is composed of the largest urban and most southern area of Uruguay in the area of Montevideo, the capital, with up to 1,500,000 inhabitants. Most towns in the region are relatively small (ranging from 50 and up to about 100,000 residents in each town), and its residents are primarily employed in Montevideo. The second major geographic and central region is Canelones, with approximately 30,000 inhabitants in seven towns. This region is primarily rural. The third region is Maldonado, with an area of approximately 192 km2 and 100,000 habitants, spread around 25 towns and cities. The fourth region is Rocha, which is on the southern coast of Uruguay and home for approximately 25,000 residents. Finally, Soriano, with its 150,000 residents, is located on the western coast.

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