Study: body cameras lead to massive drop in police complaints

A recent study has shown that complaints against police drop by 93 percent after body cameras are adopted.

A large study on the use of body cameras by police officers in both the United States and the United Kingdom shows that the devices lead to a massive drop in complaints against police, according to Science Daily. The study found that the cameras create an "observer effect," whereby police encounters are less likely to escalate if officers know they are being recorded. Even more interesting, the study found that the body cameras lead to better police behavior even when the officers are not wearing the devices. The study could prove important as federal and state governments look for ways to rein in excessive use of force by some officers.

Body-camera study

The year-long study by the University of Cambridge involved nearly 2,000 officers in both the U.K. and California. The study included 1,429,868 officer hours in jurisdictions that collectively serve a population of two million people. In the year prior to the body cameras being adopted, there were 1,539 complaints against the police officers involved in the study, which was the equivalent of 1.2 complaints per officer. In the year after the cameras were adopted, complaints fell to just 133 or 0.08 complaints per officer. That is a drop of 93 percent.

Researchers say the drop is likely due to an "observer effect," meaning that both the police and members of the public are aware that there is a digital observer during the police encounter. As a result, the cameras encourage police to follow procedure correctly and also encourage those officers to prevent any situation from escalating. Interestingly, the researchers found that complaints were also down even when the officers were not wearing the cameras, which suggests that the cameras improve overall police behavior and help train them to follow procedure even when there is no digital witness.

Expanding use of cameras

The researchers did note, however, that for the cameras to lead to drops in complaints those cameras have to be used correctly. For example, the cameras should be turned on at the beginning of a police encounter and the person the officer is interacting with should be informed at this time that they are being filmed. If the cameras are turned on midway through the encounter then that action can actually be perceived as aggressive and, according to the researchers, can end up escalating an already tense situation.

Nonetheless, the overall results from the study suggest that body cameras should play an important role in modern policing. As Reuters reports, the U.S. Justice Department recently allocated $20 million to over 100 police forces across the country to help them buy body cameras. While body cameras are far from a panacea to the problem of police brutality and violence, they could prove to be an important tool in helping ensure police follow proper procedures more often.

Criminal defense

For those who have been caught up in the criminal justice system, the experience can be intimidating and overwhelming. It is important to keep in mind that police are required to follow the law and respect one's constitutional rights when making an arrest, otherwise the charges against one could potentially be dropped. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help those who have been charged with a crime understand what options they may have, including whether they may be able to fight the charges or perhaps get them lowered.