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.

But:

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.


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  • identicon
    KH, 12 Oct 2016 @ 5:37pm

    Where the problem lies indeed

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whatever, 12 Oct 2016 @ 5:56pm

    Given the usual anti-cop stance of Techdirties it makes sense why they want cameras turned on: to harass policemen into not doing their jobs by scrutinizing over every second of unedited footage to find some "gotcha!" moment they can nail law-abiding cops with, now that this is the age where self-centered Americans can think of nothing better to do than shove mobile phones in the face of authority. It seems that Tim's end goal is to make sure every cop is outfitted with a lawyer to hold his hand before any decision can be made. Failing that, cops are apparently worse scum than the gangbangers and drug dealers they were supposed to catch in the first place.

    Such near-sighted support for criminals is disappointing, but not surprising.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 12 Oct 2016 @ 6:00pm

      Re:

      Us criminals have to stick together since everyone who is not a police officer is presumed guilty until proven innocent. Sometimes post mortem.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 6:35pm

      Re:

      The police are public servants, they are not authority - they have (limited) authority, to be exercised in the service of the community. Their actions should be held up to scrutiny where those actions result in harm to the public. Having said that I don't see anywhere that there is any suggestion that every interaction that every or any police officer has should be scrutinised, much less every second. But, you know, whatever.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 10:54pm

        Re: Re:

        The police are public servants, they are not authority

        How quaint.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Rekrul, 13 Oct 2016 @ 9:07am

        Re: Re:

        The police are public servants, they are not authority - they have (limited) authority, to be exercised in the service of the community.

        In theory. In reality, the police have absolute authority to do whatever the hell they want and people have very little recourse against it.

        Say a cop walks up and starts beating you, what can you do? If you defend yourself in any way, you're instantly guilty of committing a felony assault of a cop. If the criminal charges aren't worrying enough, there's also the fact that you could very likely be beaten to death by an additional 10+ cops who will come to the aid of your poor victim. The best you can hope for is that after you curl up into a ball to protect yourself, the cop decides to stop beating you before you end up in the hospital and that someone managed to capture the whole thing on video. If they only record the beating itself, the cop will swear on a stack of bibles that you threatened him, that you spat at him, that you attacked him first and this will be backed up by other cops who will swear they saw you do it.

        Tell me that isn't absolute authority.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 9:59pm

      Re:

      "make sure every cop is outfitted with a lawyer to hold his hand before any decision can be made."

      "Such near-sighted support for criminals is disappointing, but not surprising."

      So you're against cops being required to follow the laws at all times but you're also against supporting criminals.

      The cognitive dissonance is mind blowing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2016 @ 5:42am

      Re:

      Boo hoo, your army isn't allowed to shoot people on sight. Go cry me a river, asshole.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2016 @ 6:23am

      Re:

      to find some "gotcha!" moment they can nail law-abiding cops with

      They're not law-abiding.

      Hell, they don't even need to know the laws they enforce, since we can't outfit them with a lawyer to explain their job to them.

      That's why the public has so little respect for them. They've got the only job where incompetence is a valid excuse.

      self-centered Americans can think of nothing better to do than shove mobile phones in the face of authority

      Given that they work for ME, yeah, I'm fine with shoving a camera in their face. They can consult with a lawyer if they have a problem with it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2016 @ 6:46am

        Re: Re:

        Exactly, we are paying them to work for us, to serve our interests. When you hire an employee and pay them you can be self centered about what you want them to do because that's what you are paying them for. You aren't paying them to work for their own interests, you are paying them to work for your interests.

        If the cop doesn't like it then they can get another job instead. See if any other employers will be interested in hiring someone to work for their own interests when on the job.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2016 @ 6:37am

      Re:

      Sadly, there are those who actually believe this sort of crap.

      btw, good parody

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2016 @ 7:32am

      Re:

      Poe's law?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      I.T. Guy, 13 Oct 2016 @ 8:10am

      Re:

      Whatever just hates it when cops are held accountable.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 5:58pm

    witnesses to a crime are better left turned off when it is premeditated by the boys in blue.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Andrew Pam, 12 Oct 2016 @ 8:30pm

    Inversion of meaning

    "Law enforcement's history with older forms of recording technology is exactly spotless."

    That seems a surprising thing to write. Did you perhaps mean to write that it *isn't* exactly spotless?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 9:47pm

    "Study Says Body Cameras Can Reduce Force Usage... But Only If Officers Turn Them On"

    Wait wait wait ... what? I thought body cameras were just there as a good luck charm! I didn't think they actually had to be on to be effective at anything!!!

    *Mind Blown*

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 10:02pm

    "officers felt more confident in their use of force because captured footage would be viewed as exculpatory"

    Lets bring this to its logical conclusion.

    Is this necessarily a bad thing? Exculpatory evidence when the cop did nothing wrong is not a bad thing. and if video footage does encourage a cop to use a weapon properly it could end up being exactly what saved the cop's life vs taking a bullet in fear of being the cop to be accused of shooting someone unnecessarily.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 10:21pm

      Re:

      If the argument is that a cop might be more likely to incorrectly use a weapon with cameras present then that cop has poor judgement altogether and it is this underlying poor judgement that needs to be addressed. (What are they going to do when surveillance cameras are present?). Either that cop shouldn't have been hired or they need more or better training.

      The argument that cameras are bad because some cops may have bad judgement is nonsense. With that argument lets just remove their guns too because some cops with guns may have bad judgement. Some cops may have bad judgement with cameras and some without. Some cops may have bad judgement with guns and some without. It is the underlying bad judgement that needs to be addressed. If a cop is going to have bad judgement because cameras are present they should have never been a cop. Cops should always have good judgement under all circumstances, trying to craft the circumstances around their judgement's aptitude is nonsense. Their judgment needs to be flexible and good under all circumstances period.

      This argument basically amounts to cameras are bad because cops have bad judgement. Well, then it's their bad judgement that needs to be addressed and not the cameras.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 10:58pm

        Re: Re:

        "Either that cop shouldn't have been hired or they need more or better training."

        Or they need to be fired. You kind of left that one out, huh?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 11:04pm

    Guidelines: When to turn the camera on or off.

    Rescuing a kitten? Turn the cam on first.

    Tossing a grenade in a baby crib? Turn the cam off first.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 13 Oct 2016 @ 12:37am

    The carrot isn't working, time to break out the stick

    I can think of two ways to provide 'incentive' for cops to keep the cameras rolling, based upon the seriousness of the situation.

    For normal, day-to-day situations:

    The camera is to be turned on at the start of the shift, and turned off at the end, excusing personal activities like going to the bathroom. Failure to follow this results in a cumulative 1% drop in pay per day found in violation, to be applied to the following month's pay. Forget or 'forget' 10 days, take a 10% hit to pay the following month. 15 days = 15%, and so on. The cumulative penalty resets if an officer goes one month without a violation, otherwise it just keeps on increasing. If a particular cop is so incompetent and/or corrupt that the amount reaches 100% they are fired as being unfit for the job.

    For situations where it's the word of a cop versus the word of someone accused of a crime:

    If the camera is off during the event then the cop is assumed to be lying by default, such that they are prohibited from making any statements in court(why have a liar make statements before a judge after all), and any assertions or claims they make reporting on the incident are tossed out as unreliable and worthless.

    Similar to the first category this one would also have a cut off point, though much lower. Three cases of a body-cam 'malfunction' in the course of a year would be grounds for immediate termination. No 'working suspension' or 'paid leave', go straight to 'You're fired, pack your stuff and get out'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2016 @ 3:48am

      Re: The carrot isn't working, time to break out the stick

      I like your idea, but the penalties aren't harsh enough. Any officer who is involved in a use-of-force incident and does not immediately produce a full recording must be fired and sent to prison for a year, no trial, no delay. After they get out, they must be banned from law enforcement for life.

      Remember, we're dealing with cops here: sociopathic, violent, lying bullies and thugs who routinely beat, kill, abuse, rape, steal because they can. Yes, there are a few decent cops here and there -- although not many and I can't even name one in my town -- but for the most part they need to be treated like the threats they are, kept on a tight leash and punished harshly for any transgressions.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2016 @ 6:48am

        Re: Re: The carrot isn't working, time to break out the stick

        "... and sent to prison for a year, no trial, no delay" unfortunately that would violate the 5th Amendment and due process.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Quiet Lurcker, 13 Oct 2016 @ 7:46am

          Re: Re: Re: The carrot isn't working, time to break out the stick

          So the cops get to hide behind the constitution, while the people the cops interact with don't? Is this what you're saying?

          Normally, I'd agree; "we're the good guys, and we're better than they are". In this case, I'd seriously consider making an exception.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2016 @ 10:41am

          Re: Re: Re: The carrot isn't working, time to break out the stick

          No, it wouldn't. Look to the UCMJ for an example. When you sign up for the military, you give up some of your rights, voluntarily. We can easily do the same with truffle-grunters.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2016 @ 6:51am

        Re: Re: The carrot isn't working, time to break out the stick

        "Any officer who is involved in a use-of-force incident and does not immediately produce a full recording must be fired and sent to prison for a year, no trial, no delay. After they get out, they must be banned from law enforcement for life."

        While I disagree with the no trial portion of it I think the rest of it is exactly what should happen to any cop caught lying for another cop (or lying in general).

        If you lie that should be the end of your career. I'm sick and tired of the lies and coverups.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2016 @ 2:33pm

          Re: Re: Re: The carrot isn't working, time to break out the stick

          There wouldn't even have to a rule that they get fired. If the courts would simply ban any cop caught lying from ever testifying in court then such cops would loose so much of their value that the departments would fire them on their own. I mean, they wouldn't even be able to write a traffic ticket that would stick.

          I lay the problem at the feet of the cop-suck-up courts that allow, even welcome, testimony from proven liars as long as they are cops.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Quiet Lurcker, 13 Oct 2016 @ 5:20am

      Re: The carrot isn't working, time to break out the stick

      Let's make sure the supervisors and bosses get the message, too.

      For situations "where it's the word of a cop versus the word of someone accused of a crime", I'd add in an immediate, do-not-pass-go, do-not-argue, do-not-gripe, no-appeals-allowed, 25% pay cut to the immediate supervisor, 10% to the next higher rung on the totem poll, both retroactive to the date of the incident, and a $500.00 fine to the chief of police (not the department, the chief personally).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Richard (profile), 13 Oct 2016 @ 7:22am

    Strange

    This whole discussion looks bizarre when viewed from this side of the atlantic, where the police have welcomed the introduction and use of cameras on the grounds that it makes suspects less likely to attempt to use force on the police.

    But then of course the major difference is we have the sense not to allow the population to arm themselves to the teeth and we therefore don't need to arm the police either.

    You are of a different (and to us very strange) planet in the US.

    And by the way, when the usual idiots come out with the response that more guns=less crime - and put up links that purport to prove that point - I shan't bother to read them for the same reason that I don't read articles that also come from your country that purport to show that the earth was created 6000 years ago in 7 days, the moon landings were faked etc etc etc.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2016 @ 10:35am

    If cops find that having their every on-duty action recorded makes them feel safer in killing people, I'm perfectly ok with that. The evidence is right there on the video, and we can judge for ourselves whether Mr. Piggy was in the wrong.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Killer_Tofu (profile), 13 Oct 2016 @ 11:13am

    What's that phrase?

    What is the phrase that the LEOs all around keep saying?

    If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear

    Well, their actions certainly show that they can't practice what they preach. That right there instantly lowers the respect they garner and the trust they desire.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2016 @ 3:57pm

    Imagine if police academies taught the use of body cameras and required that any training goal, whether test or practical demonstration, be documented by the camera. If the camera don't capture the act, whether through negligence of the officer candidate or equipment malfunction, it counts as a fail and must be repeated.

    TL;DR Pics or it didn't happen.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2016 @ 2:07pm

    Police doing its job should not have anything to hide.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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