Police force where 1/2 of officers wear mini-cameras see 88% drop in citizen complaints

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[S]ome police departments are using miniaturized video cameras and their microphones to capture, in full detail, officers’ interactions with civilians. The cameras are so small that they can be attached to a collar, a cap or even to the side of an officer’s sunglasses. High-capacity battery packs can last for an extended shift. And all of the videos are uploaded automatically to a central server that serves as a kind of digital evidence locker.

William A. Farrar, the police chief in Rialto, Calif., has been investigating whether officers’ use of video cameras can bring measurable benefits to relations between the police and civilians. Officers in Rialto, which has a population of about 100,000, already carry Taser weapons equipped with small video cameras that activate when the weapon is armed, and the officers have long worn digital audio recorders…

Last year, Mr. Farrar used the new wearable video cameras to conduct a continuing experiment in his department, in collaboration with Barak Ariel, a visiting fellow at the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge and an assistant professor at Hebrew University. Half of Rialto’s uniformed patrol officers on each week’s schedule have been randomly assigned the cameras, also made by Taser International. Whenever officers wear the cameras, they are expected to activate them when they leave the patrol car to speak with a civilian…

The Rialto study began in February 2012 and will run until this July. The results from the first 12 months are striking. Even with only half of the 54 uniformed patrol officers wearing cameras at any given time, the department over all had an 88 percent decline in the number of complaints filed against officers, compared with the 12 months before the study, to 3 from 24.

Rialto’s police officers also used force nearly 60 percent less often — in 25 instances, compared with 61. When force was used, it was twice as likely to have been applied by the officers who weren’t wearing cameras during that shift, the study found. And, lest skeptics think that the officers with cameras are selective about which encounters they record, Mr. Farrar noted that those officers who apply force while wearing a camera have always captured the incident on video…

But what about the privacy implications? Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, says: “We don’t like the networks of police-run video cameras that are being set up in an increasing number of cities. We don’t think the government should be watching over the population en masse.” But requiring police officers to wear video cameras is different, he says: “When it comes to the citizenry watching the government, we like that.”

Mr. Stanley says that all parties stand to benefit — the public is protected from police misconduct, and officers are protected from bogus complaints…

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