Letter: Safeguards must be put in place
December 2, 2014
The president of the United States just announced a federal plan to offer $263 million as matching funds to help local police forces purchase body cameras and improve training. Now Congress must approve it.
A pilot program and study by the Rialto, California, Police Department titled "Self-awareness to being watched and socially-desirable behavior: A field experiment on the effect of body-worn cameras on police use-of-force" was begun on Feb. 13, 2012, and ran for a full year. Please note, this program and study were before the Michael Brown incident on Aug. 19.
Rialto has a population of nearly 100,000. The Rialto police force deals with approximately 3,000 property crimes, 500 violent crimes and six to seven homicides per year. The homicide rate is nearly 50 percent higher than the national rate per 100,000. Thus, Rialto is not some quiet hamlet with no crime.
The program was designed where, each shift, one-half of the officers on duty were randomly assigned to wear body cameras. The other half were considered the control group for the study. The cameras were small and full-color and recorded sound. The cameras could be easily attached to various uniform locations as well as to eyeglasses.
The program has shown that wearing body cameras drastically reduces the overall number of complaints against police, an 88 percent reduction. The same study shows a reduction in the use of force by police, a 60 percent reduction. It is interesting that the police not wearing body cameras were twice as likely to use force during their shifts.
Some police have raised privacy concerns. Yet they have no problem establishing networks of video cameras on buildings and traffic lights to oversee the public. Given the widespread use of phone cameras to partially record any event that occurs, these privacy issues ring hollow. If it is OK for the police to oversee the public, why is it not OK for the public to oversee the police? It is the police who have the ability to remove the most basic of civil liberties: life.
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The effect of wearing body cameras not only had the effect of modifying the police officers' behavior; it also had the effect of modifying public behavior. People behave better if they think someone is watching. Safeguards must be put in place to prevent an omnipresent Big Brother effect, but the results are undeniable.
Body cameras can protect both the public from undue use of force and the police from undue lawsuits.
Please contact your elected officials in Congress and request they support this federal program.