This is a few weeks old but very much worth highlighting. The city of Rialto, California has, for the last couple years, been requiring all police officers to wear cameras on their uniform and record every interaction with the public on duty. The results have been exactly what we would expect:
But Rialto’s randomised controlled study has seized attention because it offers scientific – and encouraging – findings: after cameras were introduced in February 2012, public complaints against officers plunged 88% compared with the previous 12 months. Officers’ use of force fell by 60%.
“When you know you’re being watched you behave a little better. That’s just human nature,” said Farrar. “As an officer you act a bit more professional, follow the rules a bit better.”
Video clips provided by the department showed dramatic chases on foot – you can hear the officer panting – and by car that ended with arrests, and without injury. Complaints often stemmed not from operational issues but “officers’ mouths”, said the chief. “With a camera they are more conscious of how they speak and how they treat people.”
The same applied to the public; once informed they were being filmed, even drunk or agitated people tended to become more polite, Farrar said. Those who lodged frivolous or bogus complaints about officers tended to retract them when shown video of the incidents. “It’s like, ‘Oh, I hadn’t seen it that way.’”
Cameras made officers more careful about using force. “It’s still part of the business, they still do it. But now they make better use of what we call verbal judo.”
Fewer complaints and calmer policing, said Farrar, would reduce lawsuits and expensive payouts.
And more importantly, it reduces the unjustified use of force and the verbal abuse of citizens. Even if it never saved a dime, that’s the right thing to do. And it reduces the number of false complaints as well, so police officers should be strongly supporting it. Unless they’re corrupt and like the unfettered power they have to abuse people.