Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


police-equipment

(PHOTO: SCOTT CORNELL/SHUTTERSTOCK)

The Impact of Body-Mounted Cameras on Cops and Criminals

• August 28, 2013 • 10:00 AM

(PHOTO: SCOTT CORNELL/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Will we soon see video cameras on the shoulder of every cop and corrections officer? Or will the high cost to both budgets and, potentially, individual privacy be enough to stop their adoption nationwide?

The panopticon is coming to a street near you—and it’s policing the police as well as the suspects.

The New York Times reported last week on the success that the police department in Rialto, California, has found first with audio recorders and now video cameras worn by officers on duty: “In the first year after the cameras were introduced here in February 2012, the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent compared with the previous 12 months. Use of force by officers fell by almost 60 percent over the same period.”

Soon, says the Times, all uniformed officers in the Rialto department will wear cameras on every shift. The police chief there said that the presence of the cameras improves safety, transparency, and conviction rates. “When you put a camera on a police officer, they tend to behave a little better, follow the rules a little better,” said Chief Farrar. “And if a citizen knows the officer is wearing a camera, chances are the citizen will behave a little better.”

A former police chief from New York City (where stop-and-frisk tactics are an ongoing controversy) said that video cameras could help resolve the “he-said-she-said” phenomenon inherent in accusations of police misconduct, as well.

[P]olice officials from Oakland to Greensboro, N.C., all cited the swift resolution of complaints against officers as one of the primary benefits body cameras had offered. In some cases, citizens have come to the police station to file a complaint and decided not to after they were shown the video of the incident.

In other cases, though less frequently, officials said, accusations of officer misconduct have been corroborated by video from body cameras.

While several police departments around the country have begun experimenting with video cameras on duty, best practices have not yet been established across the board. For instance, different departments have different policies about how long the recorded video should be stored, and whether they will allow the video to be released to the media.

In addition to police officers on patrol, prisons are also testing the effectiveness of shoulder-mounted cameras. A recent case study tested the impact of the cameras in the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston, South Carolina (the largest in the state, with over 1,900 inmates).

The administrators there were unsatisfied with the immovable video cameras that already lined the hallways and common rooms. Shoulder-mounted video cameras were given to the pairs of “rapid response responders” who rush to the scene when, for instance, a fight breaks out, or an inmate is “combative or hostile” in some way, according to the study released by the National Jail Exchange. These responders are “authorized to use less-than-lethal munitions;” obviously, this makes it vital that they document and justify their use of force in any given confrontation.

After the trial run, the South Carolina prison administrators determined that this additional technology was worth the considerable investment, especially “when dealing with highly volatile situations.” According to their report, the cameras have kept both the corrections officers and the inmates accountable:

Our “Use of Force” incidents are now met with better tactics (less hands-on) and with better documentation and recordings for administrative review. The dual partner team recordings of each incident let us review it from different perspectives. The recorded video files are transferred to a compact disc for easy attachment to each “Use of Force” incident report, and the reports are forwarded up through the chain of command for review. The improved video content also helps us identify the need for any after-action training, which can be completed as necessary.

So will we soon see video cameras on the shoulder of every cop and corrections officer? Or will the high cost to both budgets and, potentially, individual privacy be enough to stop their adoption nationwide?

The federal judge who issued the stop-and-frisk ruling against New York City earlier this month actually mandated that the city test the shoulder-mounted cameras in precincts where stop-and-frisks were most frequent:

The goal of her order, Judge Scheindlin wrote, is to create an “objective record” of the stops so supervisors and courts can decide whether they’re legal and to encourage “lawful and respectful” interactions between police and suspects. She also expects the cameras to increase trust between officers and the public by providing a new form of evidence that can be used in settling complaints, which often come down to competing pieces of testimony.

But Ray Kelly, New York’s police commissioner, told Bob Schieffer on CBS that many questions about the cameras remained:

“When do you have the cameras on?” he asked. “When do you turn them off? Do you have it on during a domestic dispute? Do you have it on when somebody comes to give you confidential information? All of these issues have to be answered.”

Regardless, if similar precedents are any indication, the questions will likely be answered, and the costs will likely come to be seen as well justified. As the Times points out, “Experts increasingly say that body cameras are likely to become an industry standard over the coming years, just as cameras in patrol cars, which once prompted similar objections about privacy, have become commonplace in recent decades.”

Lauren Kirchner
Lauren Kirchner is the Web editor of The Baffler. She has written for the Columbia Journalism Review, Capital New York, Slate, The Awl, The Hairpin, and many others. Follow her on Twitter @lkirchner.

More From Lauren Kirchner

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 26 • 4:00 PM

Turmoil at JPMorgan

Examiners are reportedly blocked from doing their job as “London Whale” trades blow up.


November 26 • 2:00 PM

Rich Kids Are More Likely to Be Working for Dad

Nepotism is alive and well, especially for the well-off.


November 26 • 12:00 PM

How Do You Make a Living, Taxidermist?

Taxidermist Katie Innamorato talks to Noah Davis about learning her craft, seeing it become trendy, and the going-rate for a “Moss Fox.”


November 26 • 10:28 AM

Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals’ actions pile up quickly.


November 26 • 10:13 AM

Honeybees Touring America


November 26 • 10:00 AM

Understanding Money

In How to Speak Money, John Lanchester explains how the monied people talk about their mountains of cash.


November 26 • 8:00 AM

The Exponential Benefits of Eating Less

Eating less food—whole food and junk food, meat and plants, organic and conventional, GMO and non-GMO—would do a lot more than just better our personal health.


November 26 • 6:00 AM

The Incorruptible Bodies of Saints

Their figures were helped along by embalming, but, somehow, everyone forgot that part.


November 26 • 4:00 AM

The Geography of Real Estate Markets Is Shifting Under Our Feet

Policies aimed at unleashing supply in order to make housing more affordable are relying on outdated models.



November 25 • 4:00 PM

Is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Doing Enough to Monitor Wall Street?

Bank President William Dudley says supervision is stronger than ever, but Democratic senators are unconvinced: “You need to fix it, Mr. Dudley, or we need to get someone who will.”


November 25 • 3:30 PM

Cultural Activities Help Seniors Retain Health Literacy

New research finds a link between the ability to process health-related information and regular attendance at movies, plays, and concerts.


November 25 • 12:00 PM

Why Did Doctors Stop Giving Women Orgasms?

You can thank the rise of the vibrator for that, according to technology historian Rachel Maines.


November 25 • 10:08 AM

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.


November 25 • 10:00 AM

If It’s Yellow, Seriously, Let It Mellow

If you actually care about water and the future of the species, you’ll think twice about flushing.


November 25 • 8:00 AM

Sometimes You Should Just Say No to Surgery

The introduction of national thyroid cancer screening in South Korea led to a 15-fold increase in diagnoses and a corresponding explosion of operations—but no difference in mortality rates. This is a prime example of over-diagnosis that’s contributing to bloated health care costs.



November 25 • 6:00 AM

The Long War Between Highbrow and Lowbrow

Despise The Avengers? Loathe the snobs who despise The Avengers? You’re not the first.


November 25 • 4:00 AM

Are Women More Open to Sex Than They Admit?

New research questions the conventional wisdom that men overestimate women’s level of sexual interest in them.


November 25 • 2:00 AM

The Geography of Innovation, or, Why Almost All Japanese People Hate Root Beer

Innovation is not a product of population density, but of something else entirely.


November 24 • 4:00 PM

Federal Reserve Announces Sweeping Review of Its Big Bank Oversight

The Federal Reserve Board wants to look at whether the views of examiners are being heard by higher-ups.



November 24 • 2:00 PM

That Catcalling Video Is a Reminder of Why Research Methods Are So Important

If your methods aren’t sound then neither are your findings.


November 24 • 12:00 PM

Yes, Republicans Can Still Win the White House

If the economy in 2016 is where it was in 2012 or better, Democrats will likely retain the White House. If not, well….


November 24 • 11:36 AM

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it’s relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.


Follow us


Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals' actions pile up quickly.

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it's relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.