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.

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Comments on “Study Of Las Vegas PD Body Cameras Shows Reductions In Complaints, Use Of Force”

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12 Comments
MyNameHere (profile) says:

There are a couple of things I noticed here.

500 internal investigations, and police cleared on 462.

Let’s reverse that for a moment: 500 complaints from the public strong enough to merit internal investigation, and over 90% of the are dismissed.

“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.”

Another great stat. The question unanswered is about how things moved along to use of force. Were police suddenly being less violent, or was the public suddenly being good little boys and girls because they knew they were being recorded and their resisting (arrest, inquiries, traffic stops, etc) would be record and used against them?

The other big question, unanswered, is the longer term privacy issues. How long is all the video kept? How much of it has been summoned into trials? How much of it has made trials longer or required more time from lawyers (both sides) to deal with?

Most importantly – is Vegas conviction rate up, dismissal rate up, or are things all even?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The question unanswered is about how things moved along to use of force. Were police suddenly being less violent, or was the public suddenly being good little boys and girls because they knew they were being recorded and their resisting (arrest,

We have 500 incidents where BWCs played an active part. How many more incidents were there, where they were present but no evidence was gained from them?

unknown.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Let’s reverse that for a moment: 500 complaints from the public strong enough to merit internal investigation, and over 90% of the are dismissed.”

That’s still 10% too many.

“The question unanswered is about how things moved along to use of force.”

Statistics say most of the time the cops misbehaving. But yes, there are researches showing that the public behaves better as well. Win-win situation.

“The other big question, unanswered, is the longer term privacy issues. How long is all the video kept? How much of it has been summoned into trials? How much of it has made trials longer or required more time from lawyers (both sides) to deal with?”

Non issue. Really. Even if it’s not needed in a trial it’s records from police work. You know, accountability.

“Most importantly – is Vegas conviction rate up, dismissal rate up, or are things all even?”

Another non-issue. Police abuse and general complaints about cops have decreased, money is being saved, people are being respected.

MyNameHere (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Statistics say most of the time the cops misbehaving. But yes, there are researches showing that the public behaves better as well. Win-win situation.”

Citation if possible. With such a high percentage of the complaints being dismissed, you have to think that it’s not quite as obvious.

“Non issue. Really. Even if it’s not needed in a trial it’s records from police work. You know, accountability.”

One thing I have learned from Techdirt is how, when, where, and for how long records are retained is pretty important. With 2600 officers working (say) 40 hours per week, they would be generating close to 500,000 hours of video per week – plus all of the in car video. That is a lot of datapoints, and quite a bit of it shot inside private residences or on private property. The risk that it gets out, well…

“Another non-issue. Police abuse and general complaints about cops have decreased, money is being saved, people are being respected.”

If everyone is “being respected” but the crime rate goes up and convictions go down, then you have a problem. Vegas area has a huge crime problem and it’s only getting worse. Bottom line, do cameras help, hinder, or just make everyone fake smile at each other?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

One thing I have learned from Techdirt is how, when, where, and for how long records are retained is pretty important. With 2600 officers working (say) 40 hours per week, they would be generating close to 500,000 hours of video per week – plus all of the in car video. That is a lot of datapoints, and quite a bit of it shot inside private residences or on private property. The risk that it gets out, well…

Ever think about having decent opsec?

Funnily enough, you’re absolutely fine with the NSA holding onto everyone’s metadata for forever. Now why is that?

Christenson says:

Culture trumps everything

The problem with BWCs is they are another tool, and the culture that uses the tool determines the results.

From someone commenting on abuse of statistics in science:

Culture will trump rules, standards and control strategies every single time.

This is from the Berwick report on a healthcare disaster in the UK.

In hands that want to do the right thing, body cameras do good. See Las Vegas. In hands that want to do the wrong thing, body cameras do evil. See Baltimore.

Link: The Berwick Report

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