December 4, 2014

"Do Police Body Cameras Actually Work?/After Ferguson, the president is betting millions on a technology that's still being tested around the world."

Uri Friedman, in The Atlantic:
Barak Ariel, a criminologist at the University of Cambridge... currently researching the effects of body cameras on policing... insists that there isn't enough evidence so far to generalize the finding and assert that body-worn cameras offer a net benefit to community policing....

There are... privacy concerns — the fear... that cameras "could turn every officer into a mobile, closed-circuit camera, hooked up to a database tracking and recording people’s movements across the city." People could refrain from reporting incidents to the police because they don't want to appear on camera...

The credibility of police testimony against defendants could be discounted in the absence of footage to corroborate the officer's version of events. It's the legal equivalent of "pics or it didn't happen."

Ariel gave the example of a traffic cop who spots an infraction out of the corner of his eye, and then can't produce body-worn video of the episode....
That suggests a problem of cops distracted by the need to position their body to point the camera properly rather than that to do what ought to be done. And the problem of deliberately deceptive evidence as police control what gets on camera. 
[I]t's clear that body cameras reduced the likelihood of forceful interactions between officers and citizens. But it's unclear whether the cameras had a deterrent effect on the police, the public, or both, and how those effects interacted with one another. "Do cameras affect the conduct of suspects, which then moderates the need of officers to react with force to such behavior?" [the researcher] asked. "Or do cameras affect the conduct of officers, who might have otherwise acted with unnecessary or excessive force regardless of the suspects’ demeanor? Does it have a double effect?"...
I asked Ariel why the concept of body-worn cameras has caught on in the absence of definitive proof of their value. Police officers, he explained, see a means of verifying, via a third-party technology, that they responded to incidents in an appropriate fashion. Governments see an opportunity to save money on things like litigation costs. Citizens see a way to ease chronic tensions between the public and police.

"There's an appeal to [the camera] because it makes logical sense," he observed. "Now, between logical sense and evidence that actually supports it, there's quite a difference."
What makes logical sense can be wrong for reasons we don't see until we plunge forward and put it into practice. Watch out for logical sense.

62 comments:

themightypuck said...

The thing about camera's is everyone has one. The genie is out of the bottle.

themightypuck said...

Cameras. I hate it when I do that.

lgv said...

"Does it have a double effect?"

Does it matter if the end result is a more polite interaction?

Ann Althouse said...

Well, I've called the police about a problem and had an officer in my dining room taking notes as I explained it. If he'd had a camera on him, I wouldn't have let him in my house, and I probably wouldn't have wanted to be photographed. I think I'd have thought I'll just put up with this problem, because I don't want a film of me talking about this to exist.

traditionalguy said...

The UFC can also recruit their TV stars of the future from watching police videos...think of it as their Minor Leagues. The UFC has a big attrition rate to meet since both sides fight.

Ann Althouse said...

To call the cops you have to agree to be filmed. That's a disincentive to call in some cases.

Ann Althouse said...

Or will the cameras just be for cops patrolling the streets in... certain neighborhoods? If so, is that good or is that more reason to see racial profiling?

chickelit said...

Ann Althouse said...
To call the cops you have to agree to be filmed. That's a disincentive to call in some cases.

Especially if you're not looking your best.

And it gives new meaning to the term "Fashion Police."

Nonapod said...

Well, I've called the police about a problem and had an officer in my dining room taking notes as I explained it. If he'd had a camera on him, I wouldn't have let him in my house, and I probably wouldn't have wanted to be photographed. I think I'd have thought I'll just put up with this problem, because I don't want a film of me talking about this to exist.

I know it's not quite the same thing, but are you concerned about being on camera when you pump gas, go into a store, or withdraw money at an ATM? There's no audio in those situations (I assume).

Shanna said...

[I]t's clear that body cameras reduced the likelihood of forceful interactions between officers and citizens.

Great! So, what is the problem then?

To call the cops you have to agree to be filmed. That's a disincentive to call in some cases.

Hmm. But if you are going to make a complaint, you have to be willing to go before a judge and tell them that something happened. Unless they are streaming all of the video live, nobody will likely see it except at trial right?

kimsch said...

They can, and do, turn their cameras off. I mean you want this in certain circumstances. Such as when the officer is using the restroom. Or when an officer is talking to a confidential informant.

Ann, would you have been okay with an audio record of your incident? Rather than relying on the officer's notes, there would be audio?

madAsHell said...

Body cameras are a quick, shovel-ready fix, but it won't give them the results they want. Cameras will soon be disparaged as racist.

Think of the Heaven's Gate people that returned the telescope because it failed to show the space ship behind the comet.

jacksonjay said...

"Bad boys, bad boys, what you gonna do, what you gonna do when they come for you!"

William said...

Think of the Ray Rice video and the Garner video. People see what they want to see. In the Garner case, the grand jurors saw innocent cops. In the Ray Rice case, people saw how evil and mendacious Roger Goodell truly was.

Original Mike said...

Nothing's perfect. I think as long as we are living with the professional grievance mongers, the benefits out weigh the drawbacks. Think how different Ferguson would have been with video.

MadisonMan said...

It's irrelevant if they work.

Something must be done.

Buying Cameras is something.

Therefore, cameras must be bought.

khesanh0802 said...

Every cop gets a GoPro. That makes the stock a buy!

Beldar said...

Stupid headline. Of course they work. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of small HD cameras recording to high-density recordable memory cards are already in use in other applications, including very vigorous ones like sports.

The question is not whether the cameras work. It's whether we want to see — and whether in particular we want our government law enforcement authorities to see — everything they'd record.

This isnt a debate about technology. It's a debate about privacy.

The privacy debate is a short and easy one in my opinion: The body camera isn't going to see anything more than the police officer sees. If he's engaged in a warrantless home search without extenuating or justifying circumstances, for example, the cop is already going to see you in your nightgown when he has no legal right to do that.

So if he says you were holding a bag of heroin in your right hand, and a Glock 17 in your left, do you want it to be his word against yours? Or do you want the camera footage?

CatherineM said...

I think the good outweighs the bad. I hadn't thought of them being in my house, but there are a few occasions I wish I had the cops on audio/video.

I follow Radley Balko's website and it's amazing how often in the precincts/counties that do have dash cams or cameras on the uniform that the recording is "lost" when there are issue raised against the police. Sometimes they are caught anyway on home surveillance cameras. Never happens when it's in favor of the cops.

Anonymous said...

I don't think cameras are the answer. They don't show everything. Do you see the complete room when you watch the news? No. We consider it a blooper when someone we usually don't see appears on camera.

I crop my still pictures to get the image I want. All cameras do something similar to cropping. They tell us only part of the story.

Just think how Ferguson would have turned out if Michael Brown broke the camera in the car and Darrell Wilson had to answer to the agitators why he unplugged it to cover up his crime.

Cameras are not the answer. Obeying the law would have gone a long way in preventing a shooting, however. I think the answer is behavioral.

Matthew Sablan said...

If we have to bet on something with millions of dollars, this at least, seems a smarter bet than what we usually gamble on.

Shanna said...

Something must be done.

Buying Cameras is something.

Therefore, cameras must be bought.


This is how I feel about approximately 90% of what government does, but not this particular one. It seems like they actually do work.

The act of observing a thing, changes that thing. Makes total sense.

Original Mike said...

"Just think how Ferguson would have turned out if Michael Brown broke the camera in the car and Darrell Wilson had to answer to the agitators why he unplugged it to cover up his crime."

How would that be different than what did happen?

mrs.e said...

I tend to lean toward what Beldar said. I'm sure it's not perfect, but think we have to try something - this seems as good an option as any. Regardless, we need to do better.

Matthew Sablan said...

"I know it's not quite the same thing, but are you concerned about being on camera when you pump gas, go into a store, or withdraw money at an ATM? "

-- All of those are public places or not your private place. So, the difference is pretty big, I think.

MadisonMan said...

The act of observing a thing, changes that thing. Makes total sense.

I was *mostly* being flip. How often, though, as mentioned upthread, is camera footage "lost" when it reflects poorly on an officer? Unless the footage is not controlled by the Police, I don't see how this will help in the long run. Officers will quickly learn that damning footage will be lost.

And if the police aren't in charge of the footage, then you've just added a whole bunch jobs to a bureaucracy.

Thorley Winston said...

I know it's not quite the same thing, but are you concerned about being on camera when you pump gas, go into a store, or withdraw money at an ATM? There's no audio in those situations (I assume).

I can’t speak for Ann or anyone else but stationary cameras set up to observe a particular area (e.g. ATM, gas pump, inside of a store) that might capture me for a couple of minutes feel less intrusive than a camera that is specifically focused on me personally. Also in those cases, I’m generally not aware of their presence (or maybe aware somewhere in the back of my mind but have subconsciously tuned them out) but if I can see a camera being controlled by another human being pointed directly at me is something that I am definitely going to be aware of and when that person is there to investigate a possible criminal complaint, it’s only going to add to the tension I’m already feeling.

It may not be strictly rational but I suspect a lot of other people may feel the same way.

PB said...

Idiot. The awareness of being observed and recorded changes behavior, largely eliminating undesirable or criminal behavior. The reality of being penalized does prevent that behavior. There are more than enough studies that have proven this, in addition to common sense. Plus there's science - The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

David said...

The purpose of the camera funding is to have Obama perceived as doing something. If they actually help, that's a bonus, but it's not the purpose.

garage mahal said...

Without that useless camera on Eric Garner he would still be dead. But you wouldn't be thinking about it.

EMD said...

We've already done body cameras, and they had a net positive effect on police interaction with the populace. Now, Rialto isn't everyplace, so it remains to be seen how they would play out in other locales.

EMD said...

"public complaints against officers plunged 88% compared with the previous 12 months. Officers' use of force fell by 60%."

I know statistics aren't always foolproof, but those seem to be good results.

BDNYC said...

Two words: Google glass. Remember Glassholes?

EMD said...

"Without that useless camera on Eric Garner he would still be dead. But you wouldn't be thinking about it."

I don't get how Mike Brown became cause du jour, and Eric Garner didn't gain attraction.

I think too many cops are being trained to escalate situations rather than de-escalate them.

Matthew Sablan said...

"I don't get how Mike Brown became cause du jour, and Eric Garner didn't gain attraction."

-- Neither do I. Did Brown happen first? I think it did; I honestly had not heard of Garner until two or three days ago, so I misunderstood thinking it was super recent.

Anonymous said...

I saw a document dump the other day where about 75% of the information provided by the government was redacted.

Will the police get to redact the video as well, and therefore, the public only gets to see what the government wants you to see?

Remember, this isn't camera's that are pointed at the police. These are camera's pointed at you.

Unknown said...

Funny story: Couple of Austin PD officers had a dash cam on, didn't realize it, saw a provocatively dressed fem in a bad neighborhood & made some crack about "she can call, but we won't be able un-rape her." They later answered a call on some criminal action.

Defense Atty had the tape of the criminal action & viewed the earlier non-PC conversation & decided the public needs to know, so it was released it on social media. Big flap.

garage mahal said...

I don't get how Mike Brown became cause du jour, and Eric Garner didn't gain attraction

Or Tamir Rice, who was basically gunned down in cold blood by some emotionally unstable loser cop.

PB said...

Eric Garner who exclaimed several times, "I can't breathe." took a breath in between each clear sentence. If you can't breathe, you can't speak. That's how speaking works. He was't choking or choked.

Tank said...

I see here that there was a black, female police sergeant supervising the arrest of Garner who did not appear on the video, but testified with immunity to the grand jury.

That might have taken some of the racial "sting" out of the picture for those jurors.

Tank said...

Added: I remain surprised there was no true bill.

Everything about this stinks.

Just so you know that even a so-called minor "offense" can get you dead. Loose cigs !

jacksonjay said...

I say we put body cams on Sleep Ruth, The Wise Latina and the Mall Cop.

EDH said...

How about politician and government official cams?

Paul said...

It's not just the cameras.

The IT needed to download, archive, retrieve, etc... is far more costly than the cameras.

Sure it will make some cops think twice, and some lawbreakers to, but at quite a cost.

Kind of like Obamacare.

Shanna said...

EMD said...
We've already done body cameras, and they had a net positive effect on police interaction with the populace. Now, Rialto isn't everyplace, so it remains to be seen how they would play out in other locales.


I read somewhere that Arkansas has had dash cams for a long time(which apparently led to us showing up on cops quite a bit in the early days!). That is not so intrusive as a body camera and only really records interactions with motorists but it seems to be a good thing.

Eric Garner who exclaimed several times, "I can't breathe." took a breath in between each clear sentence. If you can't breathe, you can't speak.

I don't understand why people keep bringing this up because he clearly WAS having trouble breathing, even if he hadn't technically lost all breath at that point. We know this, because he died. I mean, come on.


EMD said...

Or Tamir Rice, who was basically gunned down in cold blood by some emotionally unstable loser cop.

I can't comprehend the police tactics brought to bear in the Rice case.

Again, cops escalated a situation that could have been more easily diffused.

If you're more concerned with coming home alive than gunning down a 12 year old (alone) in a park sitting in a gazebo, then don't become a cop.

garage mahal said...

The cop who killed Tamir Rice is a pathetic baby who sobbed for four months about losing his girlfriend. How is this guy a cop?

FullMoon said...

PB said... [hush]​[hide comment]

Eric Garner who exclaimed several times, "I can't breathe." took a breath in between each clear sentence. If you can't breathe, you can't speak. That's how speaking works. He was't choking or choked.

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and propose that most people down on the ground with a cop on them say"I can't breathe" and most of them survive.

I have only seen the short vid, but the cop wasn't choking him for very long.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

For whoever asked: I think Garner was in July, Brown in August.

Question: What about dummy cameras? They'd be cheaper, after all. Maybe you could intersperse some real ones among the fakes. After all, it's the risk of being photographed that matters, not the certainty. (That goes for the public, not the police, of course; a cop who can't spot a dummy camera likely has other, bigger issues with his job.)

Brando said...

Generally speaking, body cameras are a good thing--they'd make it easier to gather more evidence, and in many cases police and citizens will be more careful knowing they're being filmed. But there's still going to be a lot that the cameras miss, or leave ambiguous, and a lot of behavior that wouldn't change in any event. Plus, the privacy conerns become more acute when the cameras are used in private homes, etc.

This seems like another way for Obama to seem like he's doing something, when it's not really doing much of anything. Which I suppose would be preferable to doing something far more harmful (such as whatever Al Sharpton is probably asking him to do right now). So I'll give Obama credit for being somewhat ineffectual.

Brando said...

"That might have taken some of the racial "sting" out of the picture for those jurors."

While I think the cops were in the wrong in the Garner case and likely committed manslaughter, I don't see any racial element to the incident.

traditionalguy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
traditionalguy said...

Strangulation is done by breaking bones and cartilage inside the neck that hold open the windpipe.

A choke hold only appears as a long hold but the damage being done by an arm bar leverage across the throat is the same as damage as from a blow to the larynx.

Then the attacker has about a ninety seconds to do an emergency tracheotomy or he has killed the man he believed he was holding down by white man's magic that makes men docile.

Bob R said...

For a Brown vs. Garner comparison - read Radley Balko's piece on how municipal law works in suburban St. Louis. This is a badly policed area that was ready to blow. Much worse than Staten Island. It's not all (or even primarily) about the individual incident.

Bob R said...

I disagree with Althouse's objections to cameras. Cops shouldn't engage in confrontations that they aren't willing to have filmed. Citizens shouldn't make complaints to the police that they are not willing to have filmed. (I'm for some protections of citizen's privacy for their filmed statements, but not more than their verbal statements currently get.) Both are using the power of the state. Responsibility comes with the territory.

Revenant said...

People could refrain from reporting incidents to the police because they don't want to appear on camera...

Personally, I refrain from reporting incidents to the police because the police are basically useless.

The concern about police being used as networked surveillance cameras is legitimate, though; there can be little doubt the cameras will eventually be re-purposed for that. In my opinion the cameras should go on the police firearms, instead.

jr565 said...

I see a fundamental problem with the cameras. And that is that if you get into a scuffle with someone to where you have to, say, pull someone down resisting arrest, the camera is not going to catch the event. Since it will be pointing at the persons chest you are arresting.
The whole event might be a cop fighting for his life, but all the camera picks up are the buttons on the defendants shirt.

jr565 said...

"Well, I've called the police about a problem and had an officer in my dining room taking notes as I explained it. If he'd had a camera on him, I wouldn't have let him in my house, and I probably wouldn't have wanted to be photographed. I think I'd have thought I'll just put up with this problem, because I don't want a film of me talking about this to exist."
People concerned about privacy are going to have big issues with cops filming them, especially if they aren't in fact arrested for crimes.

EMD said...

Personally, I refrain from reporting incidents to the police because the police are basically useless.

They're (mostly) expensive clean-up crews.

Unknown said...

Garage, if you want to blame someone on the rice shoot, the driver IMHO precipitated the circumstances by rolling up in the kids face leaving no possible judgment only reflex. But since you're a miserable person you do what you do. Btw did you catch the shooters reaction afterwards? he was upset. I guess because he's a whiner.

jeff said...

It doesn't matter if it works. The important thing is that "something is being done" because "something must be done" and the significance of "doing something" is proportional to the amount of tax money being spent. Actually working is way down on the list.

jeff said...

"Garage, if you want to blame someone on the rice shoot, the driver IMHO precipitated the circumstances by rolling up in the kids face leaving no possible judgment only reflex." True, and no one seems to have noticed that. Watching the video the cop had a fraction of a second to make a decision. Had the driver of the police car parked a bit of a distance away and they had the option to take cover behind the car to get some time to see what they were getting into, it would have ended differently. I don't know that all, or even most cops would have shot in that situation based on what I saw, but a significant percentage would. You pull up, there is a kid just a few feet away pulling a gun out of his pants. I blame the driver. Explaining to Garage, however is a waste of time. He has problems with logic and reason.