It’s certainly all too easy for members of the public to either vilify individual police officers or their departments, once an officer-involved incident makes the evening news cycle or hits social media. The contrary knee-jerk reaction happens, too, when a department official or eager media newbie issues a blanket defense of the actions taken by law enforcement professionals.
We know that in most cases, incidents of questionable interaction between police and the public involve more than what meets the eye in an amateur cellphone video. The increased use of body cameras is reinforcing that fact, and many times vindicating officers accused of inappropriate or excessive responses. In this issue of The Municipal, we’re adding some information and firsthand experiences of departments inaugurating body camera use to that discussion.
Interestingly, a December article in Newsweek magazine alleges that the use of body cameras is decreasing the overall number of incidents involving use of force by officers, at least by those involved in a pilot camera program in Rialto, Calif.
“The Journal of Quantitative Criminology recently published the study, which detailed the first controlled and much-discussed experiment to ask whether body-worn cameras could reduce the prevalence of police use-of-force or the number of complaints filed against police,” the article reads. “Conducted by the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology, the study, based on a 12-month trial in Rialto, Calif., found that body-worn cameras reduced the use of force by roughly 50 percent, says Dr. Barak Ariel, the lead author. Complaints against police also fell 90 percent during the study period compared with the previous year.” Read the entire article at www.newsweek.com.
It adds that Institute of Criminology researchers believe the benefits of body-worn cameras outweigh the costs. But at the same time, “Charles Katz, a criminologist at Arizona State University who has conducted research with the Phoenix Police Department, is not convinced body cameras are a panacea for the problems plaguing police-public relations.” Studies are already underway to corroborate the JQC conclusion.
While we wait on those, here’s an excerpt from an editorial proposal I received recently. The writer, Christine Beems of Arkansas, had been following coverage of what was thought to be a shooting on July 2 at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. Th is was prior to the Chattanooga, Tenn. incident, but even then she noted the general feeling of déjàvu.
“The massive convergence of roughly two-dozen local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in southeast Washington D.C., just a couple short miles from the White House the morning of 2 July 2015, displayed such efficient and effective response to imminent danger that all involved are deserving of public thanks.
“…A scant two hours later, subsequent to exhaustive search and reconnaissance, as the official all clear and stand-down opened gates and all returned to routine duties, the cohesive interoperability and flawless cooperation put into practice by this critical mass of might showcased how far we’ve come in terms of community preparedness.
“Looking back on the rogue-shooter tragedy of 2013, it is self-evident that efforts to intervene and mitigate were hampered by ‘fog of battle’ — a somewhat predictable state of confusion that arises from a tumultuous sea of misinformation, erroneous reports and over the top reactions when unexpected events erupt, catching those who are usually best prepared completely off guard.
“Th is time, as various reports confirmed, things were different. Procedures developed subsequent to the 2013 shooting were in place. People were trained how to respond; where to take shelter; trained how to stay as safe as possible during dangerous circumstances. As one blog commenter summarized: “We all knew what to do.
“All of which speaks to the ready state of vigilant preparedness that the men and women of our law enforcement agencies have achieved and for which they deserve our sincere appreciation, proud congratulations and heartfelt thanks.”