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Crime Privacy

Police Complaints Drop 93 Percent After Deploying Body Cameras (techcrunch.com) 332

An anonymous reader writes:A study from Cambridge University documents an immense drop in complaints against police officers when their departments began using body cameras. But even more surprising is that the data suggests everyone is on their best behavior whether the cameras are present or not. The data was collected in seven police departments, and represents over 1.4 million hours logged by 1,847 officers in 2014 and 2015; the researchers published their data last week in the journal Criminal Justice and Behavior. Officers were randomly assigned to wear or not wear cameras week by week (about half would be wearing them any given week), and had to keep them on during all encounters. The authors used complaints against police as a metric because they're easy to measure, an established practice in most police forces and give a good ballpark of the frequency of problematic behavior. In the year before the study, 1,539 complaints in total were filed against officers; at the end of the body camera experiment, the year had only yielded 113 complaints.
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Police Complaints Drop 93 Percent After Deploying Body Cameras

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  • Correlation? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dunnomattic ( 2590531 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2016 @01:27PM (#53011863)

    When I saw this earlier, I wondered if it's A) the small group of inherently bad cops curbing their bad behavior now that they are being monitored; or B) fewer [perceived] opportunities for dishonestly reported complaints. I imagine it is some combination of the two.

    • ..but would 90+% of the population realize this before filing a complaint?
    • I find it harder to accept the opposite side, that the citizen having decides they can't misbehave and/or complain. The first assumption being that they citizens even know that cop is wearing a cam. It's not at all obvious to someone unfamiliar which such devices that that's what it is. Two it doesn't reasonably allow for the >50% drop in reports since only half the cops are wearing them at any given time.
      • Re:Correlation? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Baloroth ( 2370816 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2016 @01:56PM (#53012133)

        Actually, both of them make sense together, given what you said. Citizens (particularly those likely to misbehave or file complaints) may have heard that officers in their district are wearing cameras, but don't know which cops are wearing them, so they behave as if all cops they encounter are. The cops, OTOH, always know when they are wearing a camera, so such a great drop in complaints makes less sense from their side. Most likely, of course, it's a combination of factors.

        • Actually, both of them make sense together, given what you said. Citizens (particularly those likely to misbehave or file complaints) may have heard that officers in their district are wearing cameras, but don't know which cops are wearing them, so they behave as if all cops they encounter are. The cops, OTOH, always know when they are wearing a camera, so such a great drop in complaints makes less sense from their side. Most likely, of course, it's a combination of factors.

          And here's another factor -- what about the massive media coverage of cops' abuses caught on camera -- frequently by bystanders --- in the past couple years? I couldn't find a link to the actual study in TFA, so did they also examine complaint trends in places that did NOT institute body cameras at all?

          Seemingly every other week in the past few years there's been massive coverage of some abuse of cops caught on camera killing or injuring some unarmed person... it may be that such acts were caught on cam

      • Re:Correlation? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by rlp ( 11898 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2016 @02:04PM (#53012209)

        Spoke to a local police chief. When someone wants to file a complaint, he offers to review the patrol car / body cam video with them. If its a legit complaint, he wants to see the video. If not, the offer to review the video usually causes the complaint to be withdrawn.

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        I find it harder to accept the opposite side, that the citizen having decides they can't misbehave and/or complain. The first assumption being that they citizens even know that cop is wearing a cam. It's not at all obvious to someone unfamiliar which such devices that that's what it is. Two it doesn't reasonably allow for the >50% drop in reports since only half the cops are wearing them at any given time.

        You're assuming that a cop wouldn't know when a complaint is likely to be filed, I doubt it's often that cops that back to the station and go "Lolwut I got a complaint, WTF?" I expect that almost all those who allege abuse will complain on the spot and threaten to report it. And a whole lot of potential complaints will go away by replying "Go right ahead sir, I have it all on camera including you giving me the finger and saying unkind things about my mother." and most will figure out they maybe don't actual

    • I think it's a bit of both as well.. but since the reports were also lowered where/when certain cops didn't wear cameras (and they knew they weren't), it's possible that perps weren't sure if they were being recorded or not, and acted more civilized, where as a cop without a camera would carry on as always. So probably fewer false complaints, mostly, and the handful of whatever bad cops there are conducting themselves better.
    • Since the cameras were only worn half the time, fewer opportunities for dishonestly reported complaints could only result in a (maximum) 50% decline in complaints, not 90%.

    • Your implied assertion ("A") that it's a small group of inherently bad cops is both flawed and wholly unsubstantiated.

      The fact that there are *daily* reports from all over the country of cops abusing their authority in various ways and being caught engaging in criminal acts themselves debunks your assumption.

      Policing problems in the USA are institutional. The personnel issues are symptoms of the larger sickness. Body camera deployments here bear out my contention: how many incidents of violent polic
      • by Copid ( 137416 )
        I think it's a reasonable guess that the majority of serious abuse is a small number of repeat offenders simply because that's how it is everywhere else. Most criminal activity is the same way. It's not like every person steals one car or commits a burglary in his lifetime. It's a small percentage of people who do it over and over again who run up the stats.

        The problem that seems to be more universal is the willingness of all of the other police to cover for the worst offenders. A cop who probably wo
  • by Anonymous Coward

    - Stupid behavior by the public
    - Stupid behavior by the police force
    - Stupid and frivolous complaints
    - Random appearances of Big Foot
    - Slowing down the implementation of police state where all activity is monitored
    - Non-compliance with Privacy Laws

  • by mythosaz ( 572040 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2016 @01:30PM (#53011889)

    Police don't want to be filmed doing dumb shit.
    Citizens stop acting like jackasses when they too are being filmed.
    Situations don't escalate as frequently.

    • by apoc.famine ( 621563 ) <apoc.famine@gmaiLISPl.com minus language> on Tuesday October 04, 2016 @02:11PM (#53012277) Journal

      I wonder if this doesn't drive a secondary effect as well. It's not uncommon for a limited number of individuals to be the source of many police interactions. If a lot of those interactions are hostile, on the part of one or the other party, (or both) it creates a toxic relationship. If these interactions have a damper, such as a camera and some better behavior some percentage of the time, I wonder if that doesn't have a calming effect.
       
      Whether or not it's my fault, if I'm getting harassed by the cops all the time, I'm likely going to be an asshole when I see them. But if half the time they are friendly and respectful, just doing their job, it dampens the hate. If half of the time I see that I'm on camera and I bite my tongue and say, "Yeah, sure officer. No problems here." those officers are less fired up and cautious the next time we meet. I could easily see this being a positive behavior feedback loop, where before we had a negative behavior feedback loop.

  • Keep the politicians, treasurers, citizens and media happy at a fraction of the cost.
  • Not just complaints (Score:5, Informative)

    by ebonum ( 830686 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2016 @01:36PM (#53011949)

    Convictions and and plea deals change A LOT with body cameras. Before, you put someone in a suit and train them to say "Yes Sir/No Sir" in front of the judge. Then give the judge and everyone else the dog and pony show of how he's an A student and wants to start a business taking care of puppies. This trick doesn't work so well when there is video of a raving lunatic high on drugs taking swings at the cops.

  • Too many folks are treating this problem as though it were binary; it's all the cops fault, or it's all the suspect's faults.

    The problem is more nuanced than that. In part it's an ignorant and entitled public who think they can act like little shits and endanger others because of feelings. On the other, you have officers trained in what seem to be brutal methods but are, in fact are designed to minimize harm by controlling the situation. This works out mostly in the public's favor, although they'll never realize it.

    You do have a few bad eggs, as with any profession. The untrained, the illsuited or the downright malicious. However, I'd suggest that these folks account for a small percentage of officers.

    If it were just the first two factors, the problem could be relatively simply solved. The problem is that politicians get involved, folks who have a vested interest in making sure that the problem never gets solved. Thus, we end up where we are.

    • by ausekilis ( 1513635 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2016 @01:50PM (#53012089)

      In part it's an ignorant and entitled public who think they can act like little shits and endanger others because of feelings.

      I'm not entitled... it's just that my feelings are more important than yours. ;-)

    • by Bugler412 ( 2610815 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2016 @01:58PM (#53012145)
      "You do have a few bad eggs, as with any profession. The untrained, the illsuited or the downright malicious. However, I'd suggest that these folks account for a small percentage of officers." the "good" officers know who these people are, and they are made less good by allowing them to continue to operate in their midst lowering the trust level of their entire organization.
      • A valid point.

        • not to mention that what is "good" is perceived very differently within the department than it is by many outside the department.
      • Americans lose six times as much to police theft vs. burglaries, year after year.

        Until something is done about 'civil confiscation' police will be treated like the thieves they are.

        I trust police about 1/6 as much as I trust professional burglars.

        Weather the truly corrupt represent 50% of cops or 99% doesn't really matter when institutional corruption is SOP.

      • I'm no cop apologist, (often quite the opposite), but I wonder -
        On one hand, you have bad cops - and "good" cops who don't turn the bad cops, and are corrupted by that and are therefore "good" instead of good.

        On the other hand, you have any other job, where there is a balancing act of "getting the job done" and weeding out bad behavior. You have to get the job done, and you can only police your coworkers to a certain extent. You can report bad behavior, but it erodes your environment. Without higher
    • It's not that most officers are bad people. It's that authority corrupts people. When you put people in authoritarian positions, they become transformed into assholes.

      • A valid point, absolutely. Power does corrupt, and any reaching for it should be met with the utmost suspicion ( trump, hillary...but that's another discussion entirely ). Cameras go a long way in addressing that, and I don't wish to be perceived as discouraging their use. I'm a huge advocate for 24/7 recording of any on duty public official, cops especially.

        Likewise, I'm a fan of citizen education. I want citizens put through the same threat neutralizing course that officers are. I want them to unders

    • by fgouget ( 925644 )

      You do have a few bad eggs, as with any profession.

      It's not just a few bad eggs. It's all the other eggs that support the bad eggs, cover up their lies, refuse to hold the bad eggs accountable for their actions. So many of the eggs are rotten in this way, often without even realizing it, that any egg that does try to speak up will get broken and thrown out in no time.

  • by jenningsthecat ( 1525947 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2016 @01:58PM (#53012157)

    While we're basking in the glow of the decrease in complaints against police, let's not lose sight of the fact that the paternalistic hand of body-cam surveillance is simply treating a symptom, not the disease that causes it. If our society's overall psychological health were such that citizens weren't routinely afraid of and/or abusive of police, and police didn't routinely brutalize minor criminals and even innocent citizens, then body cameras wouldn't be necessary. When good behaviour, respect, and mutual tolerance can only be guaranteed when "someone's watching", then we live in an immature and ailing culture. We need to address that problem; police body cameras are a dirty band-aid on a wound that ultimately requires disinfectant, stitches, antibiotics, and time to heal.

    • You're not wrong, but sometimes in the short term you have to treat the symptom.

    • This isn't analogous to physical injury, it's a matter of behavior. If the cameras get the police to act more responsibly in public, and the public gets used to greater police responsibility, or at worst provide evidence against murder by cop that leads to prosecution, tensions will be down on both sides.

      Sometimes the way to attack a behavioral problem is to fake it until you make it.

  • by ripvlan ( 2609033 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2016 @02:20PM (#53012363)

    I just read that due to fear of the police, and a belief they won't help you anyhow --- calls to 911 are down drastically too.

    Apparently being nice is good for business. Or being really brutal.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/pol... [theatlantic.com]

    • The whole thing is a ginned up controversy created to get black people to go out and vote in the same numbers they did for Obama. The side effects are a significantly increased murder rate and rates of violent crime in urban areas...and the reduction in 911 calls that you point out.

      The interesting part is that I am not sure that it is going to accomplish its intended goal. But we'll have the blowback for years to come.

  • But even more surprising is that the data suggests everyone is on their best behavior whether the cameras are present or not.

    Sounds like this is less about the cameras reducing shenanigans and more about the two parties not wanting to become the next "officer shot an unarmed suspect" news story. So it's more a change in behavior due to current political climate.

  • by 0111 1110 ( 518466 ) on Wednesday October 05, 2016 @12:46AM (#53015497)

    I was told by a defense attorney that my state or maybe the city I was in used to have cruiser dashcams (which would have helped greatly in my case), but they were removed because statistically in court it tended to hurt the prosecution more than it did the defense. I guess someone did an analysis. Police routinely lie on the stand and any audio or video footage makes that much harder to do.

    To anyone living in the real world this shouldn't be very surprising of course, but most people probably have had too little contact with real police officers to know this. There is a strong tendency for people to believe in the police image as portrayed in TV and film. But those people are actors who themselves don't really know what it is like to actually be a cop.

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