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

October 23 • 8:00 AM

Ebola News Gives Me a Guilty Thrill. Am I Crazy?

What it means to feel a little excited about the prospect of a horrific event.


October 23 • 7:04 AM

Why Don’t Men Read Romance Novels?

A lot of men just don’t read fiction, and if they do, structural misogyny drives them away from the genre.


October 23 • 6:00 AM

Why Do Americans Pray?

It depends on how you ask.


October 23 • 4:00 AM

Musicians Are Better Multitaskers

New research from Canada finds trained musicians more efficiently switch from one mental task to another.


October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


October 22 • 4:00 AM

For Preschoolers, Spite and Smarts Go Together

New research from Germany finds greater cognitive skills are associated with more spiteful behavior in children.


October 21 • 4:00 PM

Why the Number of Reported Sexual Offenses Is Skyrocketing at Occidental College

When you make it easier to report assault, people will come forward.


October 21 • 2:00 PM

Private Donors Are Supplying Spy Gear to Cops Across the Country Without Any Oversight

There’s little public scrutiny when private donors pay to give police controversial technology and weapons. Sometimes, companies are donors to the same foundations that purchase their products for police.


October 21 • 12:00 PM

How Clever Do You Think Your Dog Is?

Maybe as smart as a four-year-old child?


October 21 • 10:00 AM

Converting the Climate Change Non-Believers

When hard science isn’t enough, what can be done?



October 21 • 8:00 AM

Education Policy Is Stuck in the Manufacturing Age

Refining our policies and teaching social and emotional skills will help us to generate sustained prosperity.


October 21 • 7:13 AM

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you’ve (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.


October 21 • 6:00 AM

Fruits and Vegetables Are About to Enter a Flavor Renaissance

Chefs are teaming up with plant breeders to revitalize bland produce with robust flavors and exotic beauty—qualities long neglected by industrial agriculture.


October 21 • 4:00 AM

She’s Cheating on Him, You Can Tell Just by Watching Them

New research suggests telltale signs of infidelity emerge even in a three- to five-minute video.


October 21 • 2:00 AM

Cheating Demographic Doom: Pittsburgh Exceptionalism and Japan’s Surprising Economic Resilience

Don’t judge a metro or a nation-state by its population numbers.


October 20 • 4:00 PM

The Bird Hat Craze That Sparked a Preservation Movement

How a fashion statement at the turn of the 19th century led to the creation of the first Audubon societies.


October 20 • 2:00 PM

The Risk of Getting Killed by the Police If You Are White, and If You Are Black

An analysis of killings by police shows outsize risk for young black males.


October 20 • 12:00 PM

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they’re motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.


Follow us


My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

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