Body Worn Cameras Continue To Reduce Police Misconduct, Citizen Complaints In San Diego

from the more-of-this-please dept

A report released by the San Diego Police Department shows its body-worn camera program is actually doing some good.

Since officers began wearing the cameras nearly three years ago, the department has seen significant decreases in misconduct allegations and high-level uses of force by officers.

A nine-page internal report also says the cameras have shrunk the number of allegations left unresolved due to lack of evidence, helped more officers get exonerated and increased the percentage of allegations deemed false.

The allegations are down because the misconduct is down. The department’s camera program began in 2013. Since then, it has expanded to cover every officer in the force. Three years later, the department has experienced a 43% drop in misconduct allegations. That’s the sort of thing that happens when most of your interactions are recorded.

In addition to better behavior by cops (and better behavior by citizens who know their words and actions are being recorded), there has been a drop in the use of severe force.

[H]igh-level use of force, such as physical takedowns and using Tasers, chemical agents or weapons, is down 16.4 percent.

On the other hand, lower-level uses of force have increased 23.5% over the same period. What could be taken as an indication of a partial accountability favor is more likely just a statistical adjustment. For one, the increase in real numbers is only 71 more force deployments than last year, which isn’t all that much when compared to the number of police interactions. According to SDPD numbers, officers responded to 520,000 incidents in 2016.

As for the uptick in lower-level force deployment — which is much more significant than the drop in higher-level force use — this is little more than a reflection of a positive change in tactics. In most arrests, some level of force is deployed. If San Diego cops are aware they’re being recorded, they’re less likely to deploy high-level force techniques as quickly as they would in pre-camera days. These numbers show there’s more de-escalation occurring, which naturally results in fewer deployments of high-level force. But since some force is still needed in many cases, the numbers have to go somewhere. And they’ve traveled from the high-level stats to the low-level.

This is backed up by officers’ statements detailed in the report:

This data is consistent with feedback received from officers indicating body worn cameras help de-escalate some situations, and results in the use of lesser controlling force to gain compliance without the need for greater controlling/defending force.

Also of note is the fact that the cameras have increased the number of sustained allegations. Last we checked, the SDPD had no disciplinary procedures in place for officers who fail to record interactions. But something must be going right (or have changed in the meantime) because there doesn’t appear to be (at this point) any evidence cameras are being disabled, being tampered with, or having critical recordings go missing.

Another thing that comes through is that SDPD brass appear to be taking this form of accountability very seriously. The department is already planning to upgrade its cameras, with an emphasis on capturing even more footage than it already does.

By April, the department plans to complete upgrading each of its nearly 1,200 body-worn cameras to newer models with superior video quality and the ability to store two minutes of footage before an officer hits “record” instead of the current 30 seconds.

Body cameras can’t fix bad policing if those up top don’t show their support for additional scrutiny and accountability. Fortunately for the citizens of San Diego, their police department actually seems to want this program to help it build better cops and a better relationship with the community they serve.

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Comments on “Body Worn Cameras Continue To Reduce Police Misconduct, Citizen Complaints In San Diego”

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My_Name_Here says:

The numbers can be explained in a number of ways.

One way to consider is this: The reclassifying of police actions may not be a real indication of change, rather an adjustment of the seriousness of actions based on video review. What may have seemed harsher in just a written report turns out to be less significant when the video is reviewed. In other words, the actions turn out to be nowhere near as over the top as we expected. What it means is that almost half of the claims against the police were basically false before even needing investigation. That is pretty serious.

I think the end result is pretty simple here: Police aren’t as violent and over the top compared to public perception, and the public has apparently been using false complaints against police in order to avoid legal action.

Yup, body cameras are a win – so why would you object to them being worm in schools with violent students and false claims against teachers as being violent?

The decrease in public complaints is pretty simple. When the camera is on and recording, the public cannot make the standard police brutality claims that are made to get out of being arrested.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Police aren’t as violent and over the top compared to public perception”

Have you seen even one of the many videos? If so, how do you justify the obvious law enforcement brutality?
– That perp had it coming, did you see how he disrespected that nice police officer?
– Stop resisting
– Gun ! Gun ! Gun! … oh, never mind – it’s not a gun, too bad that dude died so quickly maybe we should’ve helped him or something.
– or maybe something even worse?

Baron von Robber says:

Re: Re: Re:

#2 & #12 of the “14 Characteristics of Fascism”

Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

Obsession with Crime and Punishment
Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.


Re: Re: The reality distortion is obvious.

You are seeing a highly selective, very distorted view of reality. You are only seeing the potentially most difficult situations versus the vast bulk of the day to day operations of police. You’re seeing things through a very limited tiny window in which quite often there is a reason to perceive a safety issue.

And like anything else, it’s easy to 2nd guess afterwards.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

” When the camera is on and recording, the public cannot make the standard police brutality claims that are made to get out of being arrested.”

And likewise when citizens are recording police activity – the leos cannot make the standard leo claims of resisting arrest, assault, battery, some made up law …. when there is compelling evidence to the contrary – which, obviously is why they want to confiscate your recording devices.

So yeah – your argument is weak sauce.

My_Name_Here says:

Re: Re: Re:

I agree with you, to a point. Too many of the citizens recording police are doing it while either getting in the way or otherwise getting in the police face about something. It’s not surprising that many of the videos you see include people screaming hysterically or loudly declaring that they have “rights” that they don’t really have.

Police are rightfully concerned that an incomplete video would not tell the whole story, and instead would tell a completely different one, missing out on everything before they had to take action.

Context is everything.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Link please? I don’t think I’ve seen any recordings done while the recorder got in the way or got into police officers’ faces, much as cop-pologists like yourself like to act like there are tons of these recordings. I suppose such a recording must exist somewhere, but it’s going to be very few because people do not like getting tazed or shot or arrested and they will be if they get in a police officer’s face or try to interfere. (I do remember seeing a quiet sit-in where a policeman walked up to one of the young women seated on the grass, cupped the back of her head lovingly with his left hand, then shot tear-gas directly into her face from about an inch away from her nose with his right hand, and the person recording was very close, but the officer was kind of getting off on what he was doing and didn’t notice.)

I have however seen a way lot of recordings of people taping from across the street or many yards away, and more than a few of a policeman advancing on them menacingly, ordering them to stop recording. I would happily give you a dozen links if you need them, you act as if you’ve never seen such a thing, and yet it’s so common. That’s why it was decided by the courts that it was legal to record the police, because there were so many recordings of police abuse, and the abuse was shocking and vicious. When there were only a few, it was swept under the rug.

I’m waiting for you to trot out your “couple of bad apples” analogy next.

Bergman (profile) says:

Interesting viewpoint there

“[H]igh-level use of force, such as physical takedowns and using Tasers, chemical agents or weapons, is down 16.4 percent.”

Notice that going by that statement, using chemical agents or tasers is not considered use of a weapon by the San Diego police.

It could just be a misstatement, but that outlook perfectly explains why police commonly use tasers so much, all across the country.

According to the manufacturer of them (TASER International), they are not and have never been non-lethal — they are classified as less-lethal, not non-lethal. And TASER International knows how their technology works better than anyone.

On the force spectrum, based on how the company envisions their use, tasers fall between firearms and a steel baton. But police use them as if they fell between a harsh word and a physical restraint hold. This causes police to use tasers in a LOT of situations where they are excessive force, including as a ‘harmless’ pain-compliance device. And people die from that ‘harmless’ device every year.

So the fact that San Diego PD apparently does not consider tasers to be weapons spotlights a nationwide problem in use of force cases.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Interesting viewpoint there

“Notice that going by that statement, using chemical agents or tasers is not considered use of a weapon by the San Diego police.”

Good point.
Also, it is notable that if a citizen were to wield any one of those devices in a similar manner to that of the loes, they would be taken down – hard.


Re: Re: Ingrates that don't appreciate restraint.

We carry those kinds of weapons all the time to handle the various stray dogs that “consumers” in our neighborhood don’t properly train or control. We’re perfectly within our rights to carry our guns with us instead. We can even carry them openly.

We choose the option that is less lethal and less likely to create an unintended consequence.

Pepper spray stings like a b*tch but it’s far better than getting shot at.

Daydream says:

Interesting how when it comes to the common public, we want more protection of privacy, while when it comes to the government and police and others who aren’t us, we want more transparency and exposure.

To be fair, though, we’re only demanding transparency when it comes to legal powers beyond the scope of what’s normally legal for citizens. What sites these officers browse in their off-time isn’t our concern.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“we want more protection of privacy, while when it comes to the government and police and others who aren’t us, we want more transparency and exposure.”

Your attempt to point out hypocrisy fell flat.

There is a difference between your personal life and your job, be it government or private. In some cases there are job requirements that impose limitations upon your private life, one is usually made aware of these prior to accepting said position. Also, one’s private life may become a factor in court cases, but again – that was known.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I don’t know that I agree. When you become a public servant, you should be held to a higher standard. It is also important to know if your public servants have subscribed to White Power sites for reasons other than going undercover. When it was found out that a particular station that had a high number of dropping the N word in emails to one another as well as racist jokes, it was easy to connect it to the high number of civil rights violations they were committing. Of course, that was inter-office mail. If those guys weren’t so stone-stupid, they’d have been using private email or personal phone messaging instead of using the office communications to do it, which would have been more difficult to uncover.


Re: Re: Insult dilution.

I don’t trust any of those accusations anymore. The media and liberals in general have diluted those terms by using them as a crutch to demonize they don’t agree with. Beyond that, political affiliations should not be any justification to discriminate against anyone in any context. We’ve started compromising hard on that idea and it needs to stop. If we have to go to the other extreme as a result, then fine.

Job performance is ultimately what matters.

Body cameras are great in that regard. Police encounters are a matter of public record. The private lives of civil servants not so much.

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