Study Of Las Vegas PD Body Cameras Shows Reductions In Complaints, Use Of Force
from the mostly-good-news dept
We’re nowhere closer to reaching a Unified Theory of Police Body Cameras, but at least we’re still compiling data. So far, there’s no definitive proof body cameras reduce police misconduct, but there’s at least some evidence they’re better than nothing at all.
Early adopters showed a surprising amount of reduction in use of force by officers. A 2012 study in Rialto, California showed a 67% drop in force usage by officers wearing cameras. Since then, results have been all over the map. The largest study conducted to date — covering the Washington DC PD’s rollout of its body camera pilot program — suggested cameras weren’t reducing force usage or lowering the number of citizen complaints. A second study of the same group seemed to indicate the problem wasn’t that cameras had no deterrent effect, but that officers were still very selective about camera activation — hence the lack of improvement.
Another study has been released — this one compiled by UNLV and the Center for Naval Analyses. It shows mainly positive results from the Las Vegas PD’s body camera program. (via Grits for Breakfast)
Among those wearing cameras, the study showed a 37 percent reduction in the number of officers involved in at least one use-of-force incident and a 30 percent reduction in the number of officers with at least one complaint filed against them.
The study estimated the cameras could save Metro $4 million a year as the result of fewer complaints and the quicker resolution of complaints.
Not only were complaints reduced, but officers with cameras did more policework.
Officers wearing the cameras issued 6.8 percent more citations and made 5.2 percent more arrests than officers without cameras, the study found.
Contrary to officers’ fears cameras would be used by supervisors to play misconduct “gotcha,” the cameras were instrumental in clearing officers of misconduct allegations far more frequently. From the report [PDF]:
Officers reported few problems regarding civilian reactions to BWCs, little change in their own behavior while wearing BWCs, and few issues regarding how non-camera-wearing officers reacted to BWCs. On balance, officers mentioned more positives than negatives regarding BWCs, noting their satisfaction with how BWCs protected them when civilians filed complaints and allowed them to introduce their own narratives as they approached a call for service or a potentially serious incident.
According to the study, camera footage has been used to close more than 500 internal investigations, with 462 of those exonerating the officer. The remaining cases resulted in disciplinary actions, including the termination of one officer. While it still seems odd such a high percentage of officers would be cleared, the fact remains officers’ fears of managerial gotcha tactics are unfounded.
The addition of body cameras has another positive effect, one that goes straight to the bottom line. With footage available for use in internal investigations, the cameras’ initial cost is far outweighed by net savings for taxpayers. From the study summary [PDF]:
When considering the investigator’s modified hourly wage and hours spent investigating a complaint of misconduct, considerable cost savings are realized when BWC video is available. Rather than a combined 91 hours of investigative time costing $6,776 without BWCs, the estimate is slightly over 7 hours of investigative time costing $554, for a difference of over $6,200 per complaint of misconduct.
This initial study should be followed by others if we’re going to able to glean any info about the long-term effects of body camera deployment. As officers become used to carrying around a semi-neutral witness to every interaction with the public, there’s a chance the tools of accountability will become tools of officer exoneration only. Cameras are in use in dozens of law enforcement agencies, but footage often remains exempt from public disclosure, shielding officers from outside accountability. On top of that, footage seems most likely to go “missing” when officers appear to have engaged in misconduct. Without strict disciplinary measures, the problem with “missing” recordings will only get worse.