Increasing accountability and lowering complaints leads to expanded body worn camera programs for police

In the wake of recent tragedies involving officers and the public, there has been an increased push towards accountability on the sides of civilians and police alike. For the public, cell phone video is becoming increasingly pervasive (and effective), documenting any interactions with law enforcement as a bulwark to aggressive practices. For law enforcement, body cameras are designed to capture civilian interactions from the officer's perspective for later review.

Law enforcement agencies are turning to body cameras for one simple reason: They work. Recent studies have shown that when police officers deploy body cameras, not only do civilian complaints decrease, but use of force (UOF) incidents also go down. The most comprehensive and landmark study came from the police department in Rialto, Calif., which serves a community of 100,000 people, with a nearly 50-50 racial makeup and an above-average crime rate.

Over the course of a year, Rialto's 54 frontline officers were instructed to have their audio/video body cameras turned on during any encounter with members of the public (with the exception of cases involving sexual assaults of minors or those involving police informants). At the end of each 12-hour shift, footage would be uploaded and monitored by the team conducting the study.

What the researchers found was staggering. After reviewing nearly 1,000 shifts caught on camera, they discovered that UOF rates dropped by 58 percent, and citizen complaints dropped 88 percent compared to previous years.

When cameras are introduced, according to the authors of the study, both civilians and police “adhere to social norms and change their conduct.” The cameras, which the researchers refer to as a "neutral third eye," affect officers and the public, causing both to think before acting, knowing that they will be held accountable for their actions.

Similar findings were reported when body cameras were deployed in communities everywhere from Kentucky to the United Kingdom.

Calls to Expand Programs

Because of the success of these programs and increased calls for police accountability from the public, government funding is being rapidly provisioned to pay for body camera programs throughout the country.

In 2014, President Obama called for $263 million for body cameras. While that number dropped to $75 million over three years once it hit the Justice Department, it still represents a sizable investment in technology for local law enforcement agencies. And, as a result, not a week passes without a police department announcing a new body camera pilot program. Whether it's Atlanta committing to more than 1,000 cameras, or Chicago committing $8 million to add an additional 5,000 cameras to its force, the adoption of body cameras is only going to continue to rise.

This year, Ohio introduced a bill requiring all officers to wear cameras, and provisioned $54 million to aid in outfitting law enforcement. But while all of these agencies are fortunate to receive the funding they need to expand these programs, other agencies are given body camera use mandates and are then forced to cut into stretched-thin discretionary spending to purchase the cameras themselves.

Officers Outfitting Themselves

While mandates and appropriations for body cameras are hitting precincts around the country, other areas have been slower to react. In New York City, for example, body cameras were mandated, with $6.4 million set aside for the program. The number of officers currently wearing cameras, however, is zero.

In an era before public outcry and calls for increased oversight, police officers turned to personal body worn cameras to guarantee that interactions with the public wouldn't be misrepresented in complaints. The 2012 film End of Watch, which seems strangely outdated now, features two officers with small, civilian-grade body cameras documenting their actions.

BrickHouse Security has been on both sides of supplying law enforcement body cameras. On one hand, we offer professional-grade body cameras from industry-leading brands. Available to sworn officers, these cameras are the cutting edge of recording devices. Featuring cloud backup storage, extremely high resolution video and audio, and more, these body cameras are top-of-the-line devices designed for ultimate oversight.

On the other hand, BrickHouse Security has also outfitted countless officers with personal body worn cameras that were neither mandated nor paid for by their precinct. From button cameras with portable DVRs , to sunglasses cameras, to small, inexpensive body cams, and more, officers have relied on personal cameras to provide their own accountability for years.

No matter which solution agencies or individual officers are turning to, with time (and training), the use of recording devices hopes to bridge an accountability gap between police and the public. Who knows, years from now we may see body cameras expand to other sectors with transparency issues--like politics.

Published October 17th, 2021