Study Says Body Cameras Can Reduce Force Usage… But Only If Officers Turn Them On
from the so,-you-can-see-where-the-problem-lies... dept
A couple of months ago, a study was released claiming to show a link between body camera use and a rise in shootings by officers. The small increase in shootings in 2015 — an increase that wasn’t shown in 2013 and 2014 — could be nothing more than a normal deviation, but it was portrayed by the authors as something a bit more sinister.
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 killedbypolice.net 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.
Of all the conclusions to reach, claiming that officers felt more confident in their use of force because captured footage would be viewed as exculpatory is one of the more dubious. While officers are doubtlessly becoming more comfortable with their body cam ride-alongs, the lack of data leaves a lot of unanswered questions. For instance, how many shootings occurred when one or more officers “failied” to activate their cameras? Anecdotal evidence suggests body cameras are considered optional when excessive force is deployed.
Another study has been published suggesting two things: body cameras can reduce excessive force complaints… and that this is only achievable if camera use policies are stringently upheld.
The researchers found that when all stages of every police-public interaction was recorded, the cops’ use of force fell by 37 per cent in comparison with camera-free shifts.
However, during shifts in which officers used their discretion about when to start recording, their use of force actually rose 71 per cent.
Accountability tools are only as good as the departments deploying them. Very few officers are punished for treating their cameras as optional — something that only needs to be activated when capturing interactions that are innocuous or show the officers in their best light.
It’s a persistent problem that predates body cameras. Dash cams and body mics are still routinely disabled by officers even though these two recording methods have been in use for dozens of years. Officers who haven’t been punished for thwarting these accountability tools aren’t going to change their ways just because the camera is now on their body. And more recent additions to the workforce aren’t going to need much time on the job to figure out that failing to capture footage of use of force incidents will have almost zero effect on their careers.
Obviously, it would be impossible to remove all control from officers wearing cameras. But there are steps that can be taken to reduce the number of times use of force incidents occur without anyone “seeing” them. In edge cases, the lack of footage — especially if everything else that day was captured without difficulty — should weigh heavily against officers when investigating use of force incidents. If an officer has the capability to capture footage of a disputed incident but doesn’t, the burden of proof should shift to the officer, rather than the person making the complaint.
If police departments don’t want to see themselves targeted with more possibly frivolous complaints and lawsuits, they need to ensure officers whose cameras routinely “malfunction” or aren’t activated are held accountable for their refusal to maintain a record of their interactions with citizens. Law enforcement’s history with older forms of recording technology is exactly spotless. Granting officers the benefit of a doubt with body cams is nothing more than the extension of unearned trust — a gift law enforcement agencies seem to give themselves repeatedly.