Could Cameras Curb Police Misconduct?

Odds are, if any group of employees were told they would be videotaped doing their jobs, they would be on their best behavior. This assumption is now being tested on Police Officers—a number of police departments' officers are wearing minicams on their uniforms. By documenting the interactions they have with citizens, the cameras could help to reduce officer misconduct.

The Rialto, California Police Department was the example in a recent study done to evaluate the benefits of these devices. Officers who were wearing the video cameras, when compared to a control group of officers without the devices, were found to have used force significantly less than their counterparts. Those wearing cameras were involved in much fewer incidents where they used their batons, pepper spray, stun guns, or firearms. This finding seems to suggest that perhaps the extra motivation of constant supervision is indeed helpful in ensuring that police only resort to force when absolutely necessary.

Overall, the study reported that the reduction in force amounted to 60% in Rialto; interestingly, the same police department saw a dramatic (88%) decrease in citizen complaints. It comes as no surprise that less physical force would lead to fewer complaints against police, but to think that it is related to surveillance is intriguing. Citizens certainly ought to be able to trust their police officers and to know that physical violence is a last resort for law enforcement, and being in the spotlight could have that effect.

Given the focus on police officer behavior that comes along with the cameras, it might be expected that officers would have some distaste for wearing the devices; however, this was not the case in Rialto. They experienced no real drop in police officer morale or internal support for the department. Police Chief Tony Farrar stated that his troops are "looking forward to wearing [the devices] full time," as they now plan to make them a consistent piece of every Rialto officer's uniform. It will be interesting to see if this successful trial turns into new policy in other cities. As much as citizens worry about the future of surveillance, maybe turning the cameras in the other direction could inspire new perspective on the law.

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