Study Says Police Body Cameras Have Contributed To Increased Uses Of Deadly Force

from the not-so-fast dept

The Wall Street Journal is reporting on a study that claims to show an increase in shootings by police officers is related to the increase in officer-worn body cameras. The heart of the study’s [PDF] claims is this:

Our empirical analysis produced several interesting findings. First, we found that in police departments that conduct statistical analyses of digitized crime data, there are 2.15% fewer fatal shootings, substantiating our theoretical prediction that criminal intelligence can prevent police officers from using lethal force. Similarly, the use of smartphones by officers for intelligence access is related to 2.72% fewer deadly shootings. We obtained similar results from the alternative data from and the FBI. Surprisingly, we found that the use of wearable video cameras is associated with a 3.64% increase in shooting-deaths of civilians by the police. We explain that video recordings collected during a violent encounter with a civilian can be used in favor of a police officer as evidence that justifies the shooting.

While I don’t doubt that some officers believe footage may assist them in justifying shootings, there’s very little here that suggests anything more than a statistical blip. No such increase was noted in 2013 or 2014, and a 3.64% increase would seem to be a fluctuation, rather than anything correlative.

The authors of the study note one issue that may be skewing the numbers slightly upward: there’s very little data available to differentiate between justified shootings and unjustified shootings. Without this, it’s difficult to draw the conclusion that officers have made conscious or unconscious decisions about the perceived exculpatory value of capturing deadly force incidents on tape. And yet, such a conclusion is being tentatively drawn.

The professors found almost no link between cameras and shooting deaths in 2013 and 2014. The difference between those years and 2015, they surmise: Officers grew more comfortable using the devices in the field. “It could take a while for police officers to realize how helpful evidence from body cameras can be in justifying the use of lethal force,” they write.

Maybe. Maybe not. A lot more data is needed to determine whether this tick upwards indicates a trend or just a mild diversion from the mean. There’s lots of anecdotal data out there that suggests body cameras are having zero effect on limiting excessive force simply because many officers treat the devices as optional.

Here are just a few reports involving shooting by police where footage hasn’t been recorded.

A Spokane police officer involved in the shooting of a domestic violence suspect last weekend was wearing a body camera but did not have it turned on, according to an initial investigation.


Chittenden County State’s Attorney TJ Donovan announced Monday morning that two police officers have been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing in the shooting of a Colchester man in September. He said at the announcement that the officers were cleared without any body camera video of the incident.

The body cameras were turned off, he said, because officers didn’t want the cameras’ red recording lights or audible recording beeps to jeopardize their safety.


A Chicago police officer who fatally shot a black man in the back last week was wearing a body camera during the shooting, but the camera was turned off at the time, officials with the city’s police department said Monday.


An Alabama police officer was wearing a body camera that was not turned on when he fatally shot a man who held a “large metal spoon in a threatening manner” as he approached the officer, according to Tuscaloosa County officials.


A New Orleans police officer turned off her body cam before opening fire on a man who had escaped from her a week earlier.

Lisa Lewis shot the man in the forehead during a traffic stop, then shot at him again as he ran away, according to the lawyer of the man who remains hospitalized.

If shootings by police are trending up despite the use of body cameras, it’s not the cameras that are at fault. It’s the culture. Body cameras have been shown to decrease deployments of excessive force and reduce complaints by citizens, but only when used in conjunction with policies that hold officers accountable for not recording their interactions with the public.

A slight rise in shootings may indicate what the officers suggest: that officers are “getting used” to the cameras — not as a source of exculpatory recordings, but rather as a nuisance that can be ignored without fear of reprisal. A lack of solid policies and punishments would similarly generate a rise in deployments of excessive or deadly force, no matter what tech is forced on officers under the guise of accountability.

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Comments on “Study Says Police Body Cameras Have Contributed To Increased Uses Of Deadly Force”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Justified or not justified, according to whom?

When the DA refuses to take action, or in the alternative, overcharges a police office, the shootings become justified. When the police department itself keeps the action ‘under investigation, for years’ the shootings become justified almost by default. When the DOJ fails to step in or sides with officers for no good reason, justification becomes the norm. When the body or dash or surveillance footage is found to favor the officer, despite clear video evidence that the officer lied, justification becomes court sanctioned.

Where are the third party, unbiased actors in these scenarios?

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Justified or not justified, according to whom?

I propose the following criteria for determining whether or not a death caused by a police officer is justified:

* If someone who is not a police officer caused a similar death under similar circumstances, would that killing be considered justified?

* Had the person who was killed committed an act which would constitute a crime of a type which carries the death penalty?

If the answer to either question is “yes”, then the killing can be considered justified. Otherwise, it must be considered unjustified, and the officer should receive exactly the same sort of treatment as someone who is not a police officer would receive under the same circumstances.

Deputy Dickwad says:

Of Course!!!

“Similarly, the use of smartphones by officers for intelligence access is related to 2.72% fewer deadly shootings.”

Of course there is a damn decrease in shootings while using my smartphone for “Intelligence Access”

You know it, when I’m in my unit perusing, or surfing for the best “free” twink porn I’m too Effing busy to be shootin’ you people.

crade (profile) says:

Their logic only works with the assumption that officers have always been justified in shooting more people than they were prior to the cameras usage. It only claims an increase in justified shootings. This means if their logic holds we must have a corresponding decrease in all the horrible things that would have happened if the officer hadn’t shot the guys dead (dead cops or civilians probably) and all is well

Whatever says:

Why can’t Techdirt seem to apply the same standard “blip” excuse in other places?

If small increases in police shootings are just a blip, can we accept the concept that the increase in DUIs (in a single month, a very small sample period) is equally a blip?

As the Anonymous Coward say:

“Overinterpretation of an extrapolation of extremely low numbers. Move along, nothing to see here.”

Please apply the standard equally before starting to yell and wave your arms frantically.

ColinCowpat (profile) says:

UK Experience

Thames Valley Police here in the UK offer body cameras to officers. A friend of my sons is in the force, and he says that most officers request them voluntarily and leave them switched on by default.

He says that folks he’s engaged with tend to be less assertive when they know everything is being recorded. He also says it makes any physical contact he has to enact is much more carefully considered and executed.

Overall, cools everyone down then. Being able to turn it off is not a good thing…

Police here dont carry firearms, so YMMV.

Gilbert says:

Of course it does.

Without a camera, it’s your word when you explain, as a cop, why you did shoot someone, and that someone is still alive and accusing you of wrong-doing. So cops were cautious to protect their life, and their job (most cops are good cops and want to keep doing good work : like most people, they are proud of doing good work, like other professionnals).

Now, with a camera, if the civilian is clearly a menace and trying to hurt you, and the whole thing is filmed, yes, you will shoot. Because it was justified, and because it becomes, with the camera, justifiable in court.

Is this a good thing ? Yes, it is.
If you see more people getting shot a bad thing, think otherwise : this reduces the risk of cops being killed or wounded, and there are far more criminals than cops out there. So protecting lives of cops is important.

I know there are bad cops. Good ones usually get them thrown out, slowly. But most are not bad.

The cameras protect them from false-accusations from people they shoot that were a menace, and after the fact explain to the judge they were shot at because of their skin color or whatever crap.

The cameras on cops will be as good as cameras in cars : most of the time, they let us see that cops were trying to do their jobs, against people lying from the arrest to the court.

We must protect the good cops out there. Because each good cop thrown out reduces the ratio of good cops against bad ones. And bad ones know they are going aroun the law and play accordingly not to get caught, so it is much harder to throw them out than good cops.

blademan9999 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Except when It’s a cop’s word against a civilians, the cop is almost always assumed to be the one telling the truth.
Cops rarely receive ANY punishment WHAT SO EVER for shoot a civilian unless there is VERY strong evidence against them. Without video evidence it’s unlikely that the cop will get disciplined let out prosecuted.

As you can see from this article and others, unless there are enforced penalties for not using dash cams and body cams, they rarely get turned on when needed.

If most cops really were good cops, then bad cops would rarely get away with abusing innocent civilians, as their squad mates wouldn’t protect them and the higher ups would do proper investigations.

Anonymous Coward says:

‘Study Says Police Body Cameras Have Contributed To Increased Uses Of Deadly Force’

what it has contributed to is the greater use of ‘Deadly Force’ being used by the police, hence more officers being caught out in what they were doing and the lies told by them and other officers in their defense! basically, they prove that an officer of the law is as big, if not even bigger liar and bullshitter than any genuine felon!! and thy are usually backed up by the forces/station head and the union! their job is to see that no officer gets punished when not having committed a crime, but even that has gone to the lying and bullshitting as well! no wonder no one trusts a cop any more!

Anonymous Coward says:

Thoughts going on in LEO's head

Suspect has weapon in his hand, my life is in danger.

Without Camera:
If I shoot him it will be all over the news and start more riots, my life and my family will be in jeopardy from these nutty rioters.
As long as he don’t point it at me I’m not shooting.

With Camera:
If I shoot him I have this video to prove I am justified.
If he so much as twitches I’m shooting.

GEMont (profile) says:

Die Scum! You're not on Copper Camera.

As long as a LEO can decide whether or not to turn his body camera on, all police video footage will be of the type that exonerates the cop’s crimes, since no cop is going to record an intended robbery, or murder.

And as everyone must by now understand, the lack of consequences for their actions, due to the lack of video footage showing their crimes, combined with the common legal approval of the courts, will lead directly to an escalation of incidences of involunatary street suicide, or as its more commonly known, “suicide by cop”.

As long as cops are protected from the consequences of their illegal actions by the simple decision of whether to record an event or not, their willingness and their ability to break the law while on duty will increase and more civilians will become victims of the long arm of the law.


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