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Policing the police (2)

August 19, 2014

Here’s some follow-up on a post from last December about equipping police officers with body cameras.

Gee, what a surprise!</sarcasm>

What Happens When Police Officers Wear Body Cameras

Use of force by police officers declined 60% in first year since introduction of cameras in Rialto, Calif.

With all eyes on Ferguson, Mo., in the wake of the death of Michael Brown, a renewed focus is being put on police transparency. Is the solution body-mounted cameras for police officers?

Sometimes, like the moments leading up to when a police officer decides to shoot someone, transparency is an unalloyed good. And especially lately, technology has progressed to a point that it makes this kind of transparency not just possible, but routine.

So it is in Rialto, Calif., where an entire police force is wearing so-called body-mounted cameras, no bigger than pagers, that record everything that transpires between officers and citizens. In the first year after the cameras’ introduction, the use of force by officers declined 60%, and citizen complaints against police fell 88%.

It isn’t known how many police departments are making regular use of cameras, though it is being considered as a way of perhaps altering the course of events in places such as Ferguson, Mo., where an officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager.

What happens when police wear cameras isn’t simply that tamper-proof recording devices provide an objective record of an encounter—though some of the reduction in complaints is apparently because of citizens declining to contest video evidence of their behavior—but a modification of the psychology of everyone involved.

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