Police Cameras Work Brilliantly

This is a few weeks old but very much worth highlighting. The city of Rialto, California has, for the last couple years, been requiring all police officers to wear cameras on their uniform and record every interaction with the public on duty. The results have been exactly what we would expect:

But Rialto’s randomised controlled study has seized attention because it offers scientific – and encouraging – findings: after cameras were introduced in February 2012, public complaints against officers plunged 88% compared with the previous 12 months. Officers’ use of force fell by 60%.

“When you know you’re being watched you behave a little better. That’s just human nature,” said Farrar. “As an officer you act a bit more professional, follow the rules a bit better.”

Video clips provided by the department showed dramatic chases on foot – you can hear the officer panting – and by car that ended with arrests, and without injury. Complaints often stemmed not from operational issues but “officers’ mouths”, said the chief. “With a camera they are more conscious of how they speak and how they treat people.”

The same applied to the public; once informed they were being filmed, even drunk or agitated people tended to become more polite, Farrar said. Those who lodged frivolous or bogus complaints about officers tended to retract them when shown video of the incidents. “It’s like, ‘Oh, I hadn’t seen it that way.’”

Cameras made officers more careful about using force. “It’s still part of the business, they still do it. But now they make better use of what we call verbal judo.”

Fewer complaints and calmer policing, said Farrar, would reduce lawsuits and expensive payouts.

And more importantly, it reduces the unjustified use of force and the verbal abuse of citizens. Even if it never saved a dime, that’s the right thing to do. And it reduces the number of false complaints as well, so police officers should be strongly supporting it. Unless they’re corrupt and like the unfettered power they have to abuse people.

Comments

  1. wscott says

    police officers should be strongly supporting it. Unless they’re corrupt and like the unfettered power they have to abuse people.

    Well, or unless they’re just not thrilled about being monitored every second of their job, having every off-color joke and snide comment about the boss recorded for posterity. In other words, human beings.
    .
    I completely agree cameras on cops are the only way we’re going to restore trust between the cops and the public they’re supposed to be serving. But I suspect very few people in any profession would be enthusiastic about being subjected to that kind of constant monitoring, so we shouldn’t be surprised when police aren’t excited about it either. I think this one is going to have to be imposed on the police from outside.

  2. lordshipmayhem says

    OTOH:

    The same applied to the public; once informed they were being filmed, even drunk or agitated people tended to become more polite, Farrar said. Those who lodged frivolous or bogus complaints about officers tended to retract them when shown video of the incidents. “It’s like, ‘Oh, I hadn’t seen it that way.’”

    Use that to sell it to the officers. When people can SEE your side of things, it takes the accusations of ones who hate you just because you represent authority much weaker, convictions for actual crimes committed in the presence of a police officer (or TO a police officer) much more certain and gets the public on the cops’ side.

  3. khms says

    Over time, that should also reduce the expectation of unnecessary problems on both sides, making both calmer.

    Unfortunately, it could easily create privacy problems. While you might be able to argue that the officer has no right to privacy while on the job, the same is certainly not true for everybody else who might be visible to the camera (which is not necessarily just the people the officer is currently interacting with). Also, people might get even more reluctant telling things to police if they know there’s a permanent record.

  4. doublereed says

    Also, people might get even more reluctant telling things to police if they know there’s a permanent record.

    I don’t understand this statement at all. Why would you tell things to police if you didn’t want a permanent record of what you’re saying? I mean the whole point of going to the police for something is to get things on the record…

    If anything, it makes the police far more trustworthy because there’s implied transparency. I’m far more comfortable with the watchmen when they’re being watched.

  5. Michael Heath says

    Ed writes:

    . . . police officers should be strongly supporting it. Unless they’re corrupt and like the unfettered power they have to abuse people.

    wscott responds:

    Well, or unless they’re just not thrilled about being monitored every second of their job, having every off-color joke and snide comment about the boss recorded for posterity. In other words, human beings.

    It’s my understanding that the officers turn the recorders on when interacting with the public. The recorders are not running during an officer’s entire shift.

  6. Peter B says

    Hurray for Rialto, CA.

    Privacy concerns must be addressed. For all parties.

    The police should wear the camera AT ALL TIMES while on duty. This includes staff meetings and bathroom breaks. The recording must be tamper proof. (Straight forward with today’s technology. Encryption not only prevents unauthorized access, but also can provide proof of integrity.) The officer’s use of the recording includes the preparation of written reports. The officer may suggest that superior officers review selected parts of the recording. Random review may also be called for. Recording to be saved for multiple years.

    Those citizens being recorded should be informed that a recording is in progress. (“I have no way to turn the camera off.”) Recordings must be exempt from FOI requests. Sharing relevant sections with officers of the court should be standard.

    (Perhaps I’ve been watching to many cop movies but that last sentence may need a bit of qualification. Sharing the identity of reluctant witnesses with a mob lawyer could make future witnesses impossible to find.)

  7. unbound says

    @wScott – actually that isn’t being human…it’s just being a jerk. People really need to stop thinking being assholes for part of the day is “just being human”. There really isn’t a reason to be that way. I’ve found that the vast majority of people bitching about their bosses are either poor workers or mediocre workers that haven’t got a clue about what is going on with their jobs beyond what is directly in front of their noses.

  8. matty1 says

    I’ve found that the vast majority of people bitching about their bosses are either poor workers or mediocre workers that haven’t got a clue about what is going on with their jobs beyond what is directly in front of their noses.

    Don’t any of them actually have shitty bosses?

  9. lochaber says

    I don’t think cameras will solve the problem – I think the problem is too deep to be solved by a simple device or rule, but it is something that will help address one of the symptoms of the problem.

    As to privacy, very few jobs in the public sector have any – workers are often surrounded by either supervisors or customers, or are on camera already. If they want to complain about their supervisors in a way that isn’t work appropriate, they can do what the rest of us do, wait till after work and commiserate about it over a beer with a sympathetic coworker.

  10. Al Dente says

    unbound @8

    I’ve found that the vast majority of people bitching about their bosses are either poor workers or mediocre workers that haven’t got a clue about what is going on with their jobs beyond what is directly in front of their noses.

    I once worked for a boss who was absolutely terrible. He was unforgiving of the slightest mistakes, was convinced that all mistakes were the result of malice, refused to consider that other people might have ideas which would improve how the job was done, and had many other, similar characteristics. His subordinates would often complain about the boss. We especially disliked his automatic assumption that he was the only smart, hard worker in the group and the rest of us were “poor workers…that hadn’t got a clue about what is going on with their jobs….”

    Damn, unbound sounds almost like a clone of my old boss.

  11. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Recordings must be exempt from FOI requests.

    No. Just no.

    The police can decide to release videos including you, but you don’t have the FOIA power to release a longer clip to show something happening just before?

    That’s daft.

    If the police don’t have the power to release videos, then what’s the point? Where’s the accountability if it all stays within the system that didn’t work before?

    Cops do bad things knowing other cops were watching them: they do it all the time, with the expectation that so long as it stays among cops, everyone will understand. The video process allows involvement of CRBs at the discretion of citizens with the same info available to the officers on scene. It also makes supervisors acutely aware that certain decisions may have to be justified to the public, not merely justified within the old-cop-network.

    This difference in latitude of supervisors is crucial. We know that people even videotape themselves committing more heinous acts than I’ve ever heard about coming from someone on duty*. If the supervisor encourages beat cops to get some blood splatter on tape, you’ll get it.

    But we don’t have that environment. We do have standards for police officers, and most cops think that they should live up to the highest standards. It’s just that

    a) there’s 2 sets of standards, the ones evolved in practice which saw civilians as enemies who would lie about cops in order to discredit them, or for revenge, or what-have-you

    b) the good cops know that it’s unfair that they have to live up to the high standards while bad cops only have to live up tot he standards-in-practice

    and
    c) it’s very hard to keep in mind a book-standard that isn’t applied in your life. The standard that has impacts on your career and the careers of your friends is the one you will more likely remember, and the one to which you will become habitually accustomed.

    None of this works if cops release only the info that they want to release.

    *not saying that I’m aware of the most heinous acts, of course.

  12. robert79 says

    @5
    “doublereed
    December 28, 2013 at 12:04 pm (UTC -5) Link to this comment
    Also, people might get even more reluctant telling things to police if they know there’s a permanent record.

    I don’t understand this statement at all. Why would you tell things to police if you didn’t want a permanent record of what you’re saying? I mean the whole point of going to the police for something is to get things on the record…

    If anything, it makes the police far more trustworthy because there’s implied transparency. I’m far more comfortable with the watchmen when they’re being watched.”

    If I see my extremely violent neighbour beating up some poor girl in an alleyway, i turn the corner and see a cop, i might give an anonymous tip.

    If alerting a police officer about my neighbour’s behaviour is on record, I might hesitate.

    This might be an exaggerated example, but I’m quite sure there are situations where you want to tell the police something “off the record.”

    Also, my experience in various jobs is that if your boss monitors every move you make, you chase off the good, trustworthy people. They have a work-quality that’s clearly more appreciated in some other line of work, while you keep the bastards/idiots that clearly need monitoring. As such it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Do we really want this to happen with our police force?

  13. says

    “It’s my understanding that the officers turn the recorders on when interacting with the public. The recorders are not running during an officer’s entire shift.”

    Oh, I get it.

    Now, it’s: Click, camera/recorder on; “Excuse me, citizen.”. Question, answer, question, answer, resolution, separation or incarceration.

    Instead of: Click. Click. Bang. Perp down!

    Works for me.

  14. Peter B says

    @13 Crip Dyke,

    I was overreaching when I said “Recordings must be exempt from FOI requests.” I was thinking about the Asiana Air crash at SFO. One of the two passengers thrown from the plane was run over by a fire truck. (Autopsy indicated she was alive when struck.) Foam and confusion and all that. A fireman’s helmet cam recorded that incident as well as proving that he had not received any information about possible survivors on the ground. That video was released. New rule: no more helmet cams.

    A better rule would have been “These recordings are for internal use only. I.e. training.”

    It’s difficult to balance access with privacy. It’s clear that the video should not have been released. Yet the public has an interest in what allowed this accidental death. “Helmet cam proves fireman not responsible for death.” But how does one exempt ghoulish footage from the vindication of the fire truck driver?

    Give it to one local station and soon it goes out worldwide via CNN.

    In general, FOI requests should be honored for footage of the person making the request. But only for the relevant footage. Except that in the case I mentioned above, her family of the lady run over by the fire truck (and possibly their attorney) should only view, but not record the footage. And I suppose if they then bring a negligence lawsuit the entire recording becomes a part of the court record.

  15. MFHeadcase says

    ThorGoLucky @10

    A surveillance society is a polite society.

    We already live in a surveillance society, this just makes it mutual.

    Personally, I would love to see required full time life cams on all on duty law enforcement, (with very few exceptions, carefully controlled, with officer testimony given less weight when not backed up by recordings) along with repeal of any laws blocking ordinary folks from making their own records of interactions with the police.

  16. gshelley says

    Well, or unless they’re just not thrilled about being monitored every second of their job, having every off-color joke and snide comment about the boss recorded for posterity. In other words, human beings.

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting eery moment of their job, just their interactions with the public, or at most, situations with possible interactions

  17. wscott says

    It’s my understanding that the officers turn the recorders on when interacting with the public. The recorders are not running during an officer’s entire shift.

    Patrol officers spend basically their entire shifts interacting with the public. And as democommie points out, allowing officers to turn the camera off kinda defeats the point. Otherwise, I anticipate a lot of “Oops, I guess I forgot to turn it on” moments, intentional or otherwise.

    actually that isn’t being human…it’s just being a jerk.

    Really? You telling me you’ve never once in the course of your professional life said anything you wouldn’t want your boss/co-worker/random stranger to hear? Never made a joke that could be taken out of context, that maybe you’d rather not see on the front page of the paper? You’re with a complete saint, and or the most boring person in the world. Or, you know…completely full of shit.

  18. jd142 says

    Just because someone says, “Oh, I hadn’t seen it that way,” that does not make the accusation frivolous or bogus. It makes them human. To adapt an old adage, Roshoman is not just a good movie, it’s the law. There are going to be complaints made in genuine good faith simply because the complainant and the officer saw two different things during the interaction. It’s just the way human beings are.

  19. laurentweppe says

    police officers should be strongly supporting it. Unless they’re corrupt and like the unfettered power they have to abuse people.

    It’s not simply police officers: there are many authoritarian douches who:

    1. Don’t give a shit about public money
    2. Are not bothered by false witnesses as it only strenghten cops corporatism and tribalistic reflexes
    3. Want cops to be bullies allowed to beat up plebeans on a whim

    Who will fight tooth and nail to increase police’s accountability

  20. Nathair says

    allowing officers to turn the camera off kinda defeats the point. Otherwise, I anticipate a lot of “Oops, I guess I forgot to turn it on” moments, intentional or otherwise.

    Whenever someone posts “We tried it, it works and here’s the data!” you can always count on a few people to continue to explain how it just won’t work. Impressive tenacity, I guess.

  21. lofgren says

    I am one of those posters who is usually in the comments sections of these posts pointing out the danger areas of this type of surveillance. While I don’t believe the risks have been addressed, the benefits seem more and more attractive each time the experiment is done. This is beginning to seem like a no-brainer, and opposition to it is starting to seem more and more like the product of malice or ignorance rather than principle.

  22. Ichthyic says

    A surveillance society is a polite society.

    perfect.

    every day sees me well rid of the US.

    first, you get cops being selected for abusive behavior, and a public that is living in ever greater fear of them, then you have to force every interaction to be recorded.

    It’s a brave new fucking world.

    I want no part of it.

  23. doublereed says

    A surveillance society is a polite society.

    You are ignoring the balance of power in surveillance. Police are the ones with the power. Surveillance of the people with power is not a bad thing.

    It’s really only when it goes the other way around that it becomes a bad thing.

  24. wscott says

    Whenever someone posts “We tried it, it works and here’s the data!” you can always count on a few people to continue to explain how it just won’t work. Impressive tenacity, I guess.

    I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt here and assume you missed my earlier post (way back at #2) where I specifically said I’m in support of requiring police cameras. We’re debating details of implementation, and how to convince officers that it’s in their best interest. That’s not opposition; that’s called discussion.

  25. Alverant says

    And what’s to prevent these cameras from being covered up or obscured right when you need it (or don’t need it)?

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