The Washington DC Police Complaints Board recently submitted a recommendation to the Mayor’s Office requesting the use of small, on-body cameras for the District’s law enforcement officers. The board says the cameras, which can be worn on an officer’s lapel or cap, will help reduce both officer and civilian misconduct.

The specific benefits cited in the recommendation include: reducing misconduct complaints through improved police-citizen encounters; facilitating complaint resolution; improving officer training; reducing civil liability and improving the city’s criminal justice system. The recommendation goes on to suggest policy recommendations for implementing such a program.

Cited heavily in the recommendation is the example of the Rialto, Calif., Police Department, which last year measured the use of force by officers wearing cameras against a control group of officers who didn’t. In the first 12 months, the camera-wearing officers were involved in 60 percent fewer incidents involving the use of force than the past year, according to The New York Times. Behavioral changes were so striking that complaints against officers wearing cameras declined 88 percent during that time period.

Rialto Police Chief Tony Farrar, at the time of the pilot program, told The New York Times the results were “truly amazing.” Contrary to arguments that officers would be encumbered by the devices, or that the programs would be more trouble than they were worth, notably from Pat Lynch, the head of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, respectively, Farrar said his officers were more than happy to use the cameras.

"We did a department-wide survey before implementation and halfway through, to gauge the department's feelings," Farrar told the Daily Intelligencer at the time of the study. "And quite honestly, there was not any real change between the survey before the experiment and in the middle. There was high job satisfaction, there was a high feeling that they did have support from the department and the authority to do their job, and there was not much resistance regarding the cameras." 

This past September, on-body cameras became a requirement for all of Rialto’s officers, the Daily Intelligencer reports. 

And Rialto isn’t alone. A spokesperson for Taser International, the main manufacturer of the cameras, told The New York Times the company has received orders from several police departments including those in Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, Hartford, Fort Worth, Texas, Chesapeake, Va., and Modesto, Calif.

Should cameras be used, citizens stand to see a reduction in police abuses, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. “There [are] so many situations where it [is] ‘he said, she said,’ and juries tend to believe police officers over accused criminals,” Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the ACLU told The New York Times. “The technology really has the potential to level the playing field in any kind of controversy or allegation of abuse.”

But officers would benefit as well. Farrar told The New York Times he reminded his officers that civilians increasingly use cellphones to record interactions, “so instead of relying on somebody else’s partial picture of what occurred, why not have your own?” he asked. “In this way, you have the real one.”


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