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Body Camera Study Shows No Effect On Police Use of Force Or Citizen Complaints (npr.org) 155

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: Having police officers wear little cameras seems to have no discernible impact on citizen complaints or officers' use of force, at least in the nation's capital. That's the conclusion of a study performed as Washington, D.C., rolled out its huge camera program. The city has one of the largest forces in the country, with some 2,600 officers now wearing cameras on their collars or shirts. In the wake of high-profile shootings, many police departments have been rapidly adopting body-worn cameras, despite a dearth of solid research on how the technology can change policing. "We need science, rather than our speculations about it, to try to answer and understand what impacts the cameras are having," says David Yokum, director of the Lab @ DC. His group worked with local police officials to make sure that cameras were handed out in a way that let the researchers carefully compare officers who were randomly assigned to get cameras with those who were not. The study ran from June 2015 to last December. It's to be expected that these cameras might have little impact on the behavior of police officers in Washington, D.C., he says, because this particular force went through about a decade of federal oversight to help improve the department.
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Body Camera Study Shows No Effect On Police Use of Force Or Citizen Complaints

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  • by lucm ( 889690 ) on Friday October 20, 2017 @10:40PM (#55407859)

    It's to be expected that these cameras might have little impact on the behavior of police officers in Washington, D.C., he says, because this particular force went through about a decade of federal oversight to help improve the department.

    I don't think this is the real cause. What happens is that people get used to cameras, just like celebrities or people on reality TV shows forget to keep a poker face after a while because the cameras are always there.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's to be expected that these cameras might have little impact on the behavior of police officers in Washington, D.C., he says, because this particular force went through about a decade of federal oversight to help improve the department.

      I don't think this is the real cause. What happens is that people get used to cameras, just like celebrities or people on reality TV shows forget to keep a poker face after a while because the cameras are always there.

      Yep, part of it is that it is easy to return to the old ways, even if someone is watching. It part two of the Hawthorne effect.
      Also it might be pointed out that the sensational cases that caused people to cry out "cops need cameras on them" are quite rare.

      There are about 900K cops in the USA, so there are a few million police interactions every day, and for the vast majority, things work as well as can be expected considering that people don't like getting arrested, or even just stopped for a ticket.
      Almost

      • The purpose of the cameras is to document for the court what is going on. Not that it will help if juries keep siding with bad police.
        • It can also help the police against charges of police brutality. If a suspect is shot and there's no video, it's easy for a "he was unarmed and shot" narrative to spread regardless of the truth. With bodycam video, you can get quick evidence out to the public that the shooting was justified. On the flip side, if the police claim it was justified and the bodycam shows it wasn't, it can help the truth to come out despite police claims to the contrary. It's more about proof of how incidents went down to the co

    • "I don't think this is the real cause. What happens is that people get used to cameras, just like celebrities or people on reality TV shows forget to keep a poker face after a while because the cameras are always there."

      The decent ones among them never needed cameras in the first place and the other ones never change, no matter what you clip on their sleeves.

      • Re:Not surprising (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Saturday October 21, 2017 @06:20AM (#55408689)
        If 'bad behavior' is only attributable to a small percentage of cops to begin with, then you would expect little change on average from using cameras.
        • So, perhaps the rate of misbehavior by police was low already, and so with the cameras there was not much room for rates to drop further. Results = no measurable difference. Its an interesting idea, off to look at the paper and see if that holds. Anyone with knowledge of rates of police misconduct who can say if the rates in DC are particularly low?
          • So, perhaps the rate of misbehavior by police was low already,

            I've found some statistics for 2010. I don't know if the rate of police misbehavior in DC has gone down since then, but it was pretty bad.

            "4,861 – Unique reports of police misconduct tracked
            6,613 – Number of sworn law enforcement officers involved (354 were agency leaders such as chiefs or sheriffs)
            6,826 – Number of alleged victims involved
            247 – Number of fatalities associated with tracked reports
            $346,512,800 – Esti

            • Thanks, that is helpful a helpful report. The numbers you cite appear to be nation-wide, though. For DC, the report you link seems to show a pretty low rate ("The largest differentials between 2009 and 2010 have been in Washington DC with a decline of 257%"), though it also notes that "DC’s transparency index is the worst in the nation so that locality’s low misconduct rate may be a result of under-reporting".

              So, perhaps hypothesis still holds.
            • So, in 2010, less than two-one-thousandths of one percent of the country's population made misconduct REPORTS? Let's just be fools, and assume that every single one of those reports accurately represents actual misconduct. What percentage of misconduct involves things like bad driving? And ... what percentage of those were quickly and justifiably thrown out as nonsense? Because complaining about police misconduct is an INDUSTRY among people who are routinely arrested for things like gang-related street crim
              • So, in 2010, less than two-one-thousandths of one percent of the country's population made misconduct REPORTS?

                That's in one year.

                Let's look at it a different way: In one year, 1% of all sworn police officers in the United States had misconduct charges brought against them. $300 million was paid out by police departments to the victims of that misconduct, excluding sealed settlements, court costs, and attorney fees. Since most of these cases are sealed settlements, we're over half a billion dollars paid b

        • If 'bad behavior' is only attributable to a small percentage of cops to begin with, then you would expect little change on average from using cameras.

          The "bad behavior" (a nice euphemism for killing people) may be attributable to only a small percentage of cops, but the much larger percentage are part of a system which is designed to protect the bad cops.

          The fact is, cameras have no effect on bad cops because bad cops know ain't nothing gonna happen to them.

          https://www.huffingtonpost.com... [huffingtonpost.com]

          • The "bad behavior" (a nice euphemism for killing people) >

            No, I was not referring specifically to killing people. In fact, that would be even a much much smaller percentage of behavior than unacceptable/unprofessional behavior.

          • And as for killing people. No cop desires to kill a person, regardless of the situation. They get immediate national media scrutiny, prying into their private lives. Their lives are turned upside down. They and their families get threats. They are publicly labelled as murderers. It can take years to get to get legal resolution, and even if they are acquitted remain vilified, whether they deserve it or not.

            You make it sound like there are no consequences. You should re-think that.
            • To be fair, there are many people who do things without considering the consequences. If a police officer is going to shoot an unarmed man simply because the man is black and the officer is going on a power trip, he's not likely the kind of guy who's going to think long term about his actions.

    • Re:Not surprising (Score:5, Insightful)

      by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Saturday October 21, 2017 @06:48AM (#55408737) Homepage Journal

      And, you know, that's fine. If cameras don't deter bad behavior, so be it. But in that case, FFS, use the footage, both against criminals who otherwise benefit from the ambiguity the lack of footage would bring, and against bad cops.

      Cameras aren't just about deterring bad behavior, they're also about being able to reliably deal with he said/she said situations where there are severe consequences for believing one party over the other.

      • Re:Not surprising (Score:5, Informative)

        by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Saturday October 21, 2017 @01:51PM (#55410301)

        And, you know, that's fine. If cameras don't deter bad behavior, so be it. But in that case, FFS, use the footage, both against criminals who otherwise benefit from the ambiguity the lack of footage would bring, and against bad cops.

        Cameras aren't just about deterring bad behavior, they're also about being able to reliably deal with he said/she said situations where there are severe consequences for believing one party over the other.

        I heard this story on NPR and at the end the head of the DC Police said much the same and offered a real-world example. They broadcast the audio ('cause it was radio) of a real encounter where a man was threatening his wife with a knife. After repeated calls to drop the knife and back away, he continued and was shot by the police. Afterward, some people questioned if the guy actually had a knife, but it was readily visible in the video. Cameras can "protect", perhaps after the fact, both civilians and police.

        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by ScentCone ( 795499 )
          Yes. Footage like that will save many cities and counties and states a LOT of previously wasted civil suit cash, because instead of it being one person's word against another, the cops have a better chance of showing exactly how dangerous their encounters frequently are. Jurors who get to actually SEE how decisions to use force must be made more or less instantaneously will usually rethink their expectation that police can somehow time travel and take actions that normal human beings can't.
        • When cameras repeatedly show sociopathic cops shooting non-dangerous people for being disabled or black, and get away with it, that's what makes them useless.

  • Yeah (Score:5, Informative)

    by ArchieBunker ( 132337 ) on Friday October 20, 2017 @10:41PM (#55407863) Homepage

    Because most district attorneys are too chickenshit to bring charges against a cop. If a DA does bring charges all the cops turn into instant crybabies and threaten to stop doing their jobs. Also notice how the charges are rarely direct, mostly its a grand jury who decides and the DA can influence how its run. Then you have the police unions.

    Ever read about how Jeffrey Dahmer was almost caught? A naked and intoxicated 14 year old boy ran out of Dahmer's apartment and the police were called. All the black neighbors said the boy was underage and didn't belong there. The cops didn't listen and gave the boy back to Dahmer to be murdered. Google his name John Balcerzak.

    • by mentil ( 1748130 )

      Interesting but probably part of a different problem: that police tend to return runaway children to their abusive parents. Silent abuse is better than a whining parent making a ruckus at a police station about their missing child, apparently. They should've confirmed who his parents/guardian actually were, though.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        They never thought the underage child was an underage child. Dahmer told them he was his 19 year old lover and the cops believed it without doing any investigating and just handed him back over to Dahmer.

    • Re:Yeah (Score:5, Informative)

      by swillden ( 191260 ) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Saturday October 21, 2017 @12:31AM (#55408127) Homepage Journal

      Also notice how the charges are rarely direct, mostly its a grand jury who decides and the DA can influence how its run.

      Note that DC is under federal jurisdiction, so all terms of the fifth amendment apply. This means that in DC prosecution of any "infamous crime" (i.e. felony) requires indictment by a grand jury, per the opening text of the 5th, which reads "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury".

      Since the grand jury clause has not been incorporated into the 14th amendment against the states, states are not required to follow this process. Many do, but not all.

      • Also note that when the 5th amendment was written *anybody* could bring a matter before a grand jury and obtain an indictment:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

        Going back to this would fix - overnight - the issue with criminal police officers. It would bring its own set of problems to work through, but it would totally fix the problem of prosecutors going light or refusing to prosecute criminals working in the justice system.

    • You are as stupid as any lefty moron can be.

      Correct zero approximation assumption is that police actually in vast majority are honest servants of public, and the only crybabies are scum of the street and scum lives matter organizations that have an ideologicak awareness of cavemen.

    • by ebvwfbw ( 864834 )

      Because most district attorneys are too chickenshit to bring charges against a cop. If a DA does bring charges all the cops turn into instant crybabies and threaten to stop doing their jobs. Also notice how the charges are rarely direct, mostly its a grand jury who decides and the DA can influence how its run. Then you have the police unions.

      Ever read about how Jeffrey Dahmer was almost caught? A naked and intoxicated 14 year old boy ran out of Dahmer's apartment and the police were called. All the black neighbors said the boy was underage and didn't belong there. The cops didn't listen and gave the boy back to Dahmer to be murdered. Google his name John Balcerzak.

      You need to stick to things you know. Washington DC is run by a bunch of Democrats and black people. They will charge a cop if the cop needs to be charged. I know from personal experience. Everything I said checked out, cop was arrested and charged. Turned out that cop was dirty and I didn't even have to go to court over my complaint. This was over 20 years ago. Thing is, a lot of people, usually black people believe the bullshit from the left and think they can do whatever they want. Good black people don'

  • Of course not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 20, 2017 @10:53PM (#55407895)

    Because police officers will happily turn off the cameras whenever they know they'll get in situations where they'll look bad. And given that there are no consequences for doing so, this will continue to be the status quo.

    • Re:Of course not (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Mitreya ( 579078 ) <mitreya@ g m a i l . com> on Saturday October 21, 2017 @01:29AM (#55408213)

      police officers will happily turn off the cameras whenever they know they'll get in situations where they'll look bad.

      Also, cameras malfunction when you least expect it. Odd how that happens.
      Quick google search shows that, for example, 80 percent of Chicago PD dashcams videos lost audio due to 'officer error' or 'intentional destruction' [washingtonpost.com]

    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      But they will happily turn on their camera in situations where they look good and you look bad
      The study is about use of force and citizen complaints. Not just excessive use of force and justified citizen complaints.
      Sometimes, use of force is justified, and cops will definitely use their cameras in these situations in order to cover themselves. And frivolous complains are a thing too.

      Turned out that cameras didn't change a thing, even in situations that don't put cops in a bad light.

  • by JcMorin ( 930466 ) on Friday October 20, 2017 @11:11PM (#55407929)
    Crime Privacy Police Complaints Drop 93 Percent After Deploying Body Cameras https://yro.slashdot.org/story... [slashdot.org]
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 20, 2017 @11:59PM (#55408039)

      Could be both are right, thanks to this gem from the article you just posted:

      "Against all expectations, there was no significant difference in complaints between officers wearing cameras that week and those going without."

      Yep, that quote came straight out of the article (and, in fact, the summary) that claimed the 93 percent drop.

      The difference in claims is subtle, yet significant. The 93 percent drop is a before and after comparison. The "no difference" is a with and without comparison. Put simply, once the cameras were rolled out, ALL officers started behaving better, whether they were wearing cameras or not. So there was a huge drop from before, but no difference between officers during.

      The more recent publication does not make it clear whether they are comparing before-and-after or with-and-without. Though the wording definitely suggests they may just be comparing with-and-without.

      Furthermore, there is this statement "because this particular force went through about a decade of federal oversight to help improve the department." So the officers were already in the spotlight before the cameras were rolled out, receiving oversight that would, presumably, be keeping them on their best behavior. If that oversight was effective, we would expect a drop in complaints when that oversight began, and no drop in complaints when the cameras were rolled out (since everyone just stayed on their best behavior).

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        People seem to ignore the fact that a decade of oversight actually creates an organizational culture where doing shit that makes the whole force look bad isn't tolerated.

        In cities where oversight is lax, you end up with an organizational culture that works to sweep things under the rug, stonewall journalists trying to find information about incidents, etc. The community stops trusting the police force to protect them because it isn't.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Threads like this are why I read comments first, article second. I come here because there is always a good chance someone has already debunked or analyzed the article before me. Good job, thanks.

  • by The Evil Atheist ( 2484676 ) on Friday October 20, 2017 @11:51PM (#55408021) Homepage
    The point, as I understood it, is that we have footage that shows what really happened, as opposed to when cops lie about the mortal danger of a black person running away from them,
    • Frankly I'm far more terrified of a white woman in her pajamas [vox.com] who specifically called the police for help in the first place.

    • That's a secondary benefit. The primary benefit is the belief that people perform better when there's oversight. For that to be effective, however, the oversight has to actually be there. Individuals who know they're on camera will tend to behave better, be they civilians or officers. Of course, if the footage is being archived without being processed, cops will begin to realize there are no repercussions for bad behaviour even when it's recorded, so without oversight, you'll see a slide back to old patt
  • "We're hoping to run another study, this time with the cameras turned on."

  • The researchers could not detect any change in police behavior with or without body cameras.

    So the explanation is "Those police officers were straightened out by the Feds earlier...."

    Then why the hell did you study that department?

    • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

      It's a shit explanation in the first place, having read their theory data they've ignored the methods of policing and criminology beliefs that were long-held. The police officers weren't straightened out by the feds, it's a shift in policing as old police officers retire and newer policing methods come into play. The US is around 20 years behind community oriented policing compared to other western countries. COP is based on "ground level" officers doing what needs to be done without oversight of someone

  • by chromaexcursion ( 2047080 ) on Saturday October 21, 2017 @12:20AM (#55408101)
    To be useful, they need to do a study where police misconduct is rampant.
    Like St. Louis, or Baltimore.
    At least the mayor of Cleveland had the guts to fire the cop caught on video.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    If you don't know how much use of force was before there were body cameras, how do you conclude there was not reduction? You cannot control what cannot be measured is a basic science given.

    • Re:False conclusion (Score:4, Interesting)

      by blindseer ( 891256 ) <blindseer@earthlink . n et> on Saturday October 21, 2017 @01:54AM (#55408243)

      The conclusion was that it did not reduce complaints. That's different than reducing unreported abuse. It's possible that these cameras did in fact reduce real and actual police abuse when the victims did not report the crime.

      I'll hear stories of police beating people after they've been cuffed. It will go something like an accused child abuser will be cuffed and then "trip" down the stairs on the way to the police cruiser. How do you catch that? Even if on camera it can be difficult to tell if it's really a misstep on the staircase, police pushing the accused, or the accused trying to get the police in trouble by intentionally falling down the stairs.

      Even though the study concluded no change in officer behavior the DC police intend to keep the cameras. It must be that they see value in the cameras outside of the potential to reduce police abuse.

      • A lack of reduction of complaints means little in itself. It may be that the cameras reduced misconduct, but also made citizens more confident in filing complaints, balancing out. If we knew if the ratio of misconduct to complaints was over time, the number of complaints would be far more useful.

  • by Wizardess ( 888790 ) on Saturday October 21, 2017 @12:58AM (#55408175)

    NPR's studied a topic which needs some study - "What are the affects of body cameras?" Then it presumes the correct question is, "Does this affect police behavior?" Of course, that question in the end does not matter. What matters is whether citizens unjustly treated by police offered a better final outcome for police brutality cases and whether police officers unjustly accused by citizens with whom they interacted also provided a better final outcome in their cases. It's a shame NPR didn't seem to ask THAT question. (Or the person posting here didn't suppressed this portion of the question...)

    {^_^}

    • You can assume that NPR won't ask any question whose answer would conflict with its political agenda. It's pretty obvious that the evidence on the cameras, assume it isn't "accidentally" deleted, would resolve most cases of police brutality almost instantly.
      • by MobyDisk ( 75490 )

        would resolve most cases of police brutality almost instantly.

        Unfortunately it is usually resolved in favor of the police. When evidence goes missing, it is treated as missing, no matter how questionable the circumstances. Take this case for example, when a Baltimore police officer allegedly raped a woman, the condom vanished from the evidence locker [baltimoresun.com], and the prosecutors moved to continue the case without the DNA evidence. This stuff is scary!

  • by blindseer ( 891256 ) <blindseer@earthlink . n et> on Saturday October 21, 2017 @04:15AM (#55408459)

    I have to wonder about anything from a government agency looking after another government agency. I do believe that we need government agencies keeping an eye on other government agencies, but I won't place too much trust in such reports without something backing it up. What we have is an agency created by the mayor to do what they claim to be independent and scientific observations on other city agencies. Just how much corruption, abuse, fraud, and so forth is such an agency willing to find? If they find something wrong then the mayor looks bad, and I'm pretty sure these people have an innate tendency to not bite the hand that feeds them.

    So they claim to do a scientific and statistical analysis of the data they collect. Well, statistics can tell you anything if tortured enough. So they discovered no decrease in complaints of misconduct against the police after body cameras were deployed. There's so many things that can be veiled in this conclusion. Perhaps a lot of police misconduct simply went unreported. Were the cameras always on when they should have been? Was there any punishment of officers based on the footage from these cameras?

    If the city of DC wants to keep crime down then I'd like to see them do a study on their weapons laws. They had what was an effective ban on the ownership of firearms struck down a decade ago, and the ban on issuing concealed carry licenses struck down in the courts fairly recently. The DC government seems to think that keeping firearms from the city was an effective crime control method. Did they do a study on that? I suspect that they did but they didn't like the results so they kept it to themselves.

    I'll have some faith in this government department actually doing their job of keeping the government in check when they release a report that is critical of how the government is performing.

  • If the cameras show no difference in the number of complaints against police even when there are now video records of what happened, this could mean that the police were not doing anything wrong before, and the cameras are just proving that. Would that be so surprising? The police have undergone endless training programs and public scrutiny for accusations of overly-violent behavior for many years now. Maybe their accusers are just not telling the truth.

  • Doesn't matter. So long as the police are not culpable to anyone but themselves, police misconduct will continue.

    http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/02/us/baltimore-police-body-camera-videos/index.html

    Consider this, which includes a video at the bottom of police officer planting drugs, walking away, turning on camera, then "finding" those same drugs.

    A Baltimore news station showed the internal police department procedures for actually going through this footage. They are of course understaffed and there's way too mu

  • by RogueWarrior65 ( 678876 ) on Saturday October 21, 2017 @11:24AM (#55409709)

    Or perhaps there was nothing broken with police procedures and the whole thing was overblown. Now they have video evidence to back it up.

  • Once the cameras are ubiquitous, the police legacy of he said/she said system abuse (from either side) is permanently put onto a better track.

    It's always the case that the most effective deterrents are the ones so effective, they never get used.

    Contrary to displays of mind-numbing stupidity (intentional or inadvertent) that one sometimes encounters, one can not cross these "inactive" rows out of the game theory matrix without changing the equilibrium solution.

    As for early adoption, probably the first rat on

  • Operational failures are no reason to stop the data collection. More accountability needs to be had. More transparency of the video needs to be made.
  • It's been 6 months since Ferguson voters overwhelmingly approved bodycams for Ferguson cops. It's only been in the last week or so that the city website has even acknowledged the vote happened and the requirement exists. And less progress has been made on acquiring them, as best we can tell.

    We'll see how long it takes for the next step to occur.

  • It doesn't surprise me AT ALL that the cameras aren't (reported as) changing police behavior at all.

    BECAUSE THERE IS NO WORKING METHOD TO HOLD POLICE ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS.

    Period fucking dot.

    People know this. Cops know this. Politicians know this but pretend otherwise.

    After numerous cases with full video of police doing things directly against their own rules, laws, and ethics and the cops almost universally getting nothing more than a slap on the wrist ... why would one more video of the same act

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