A new study of police departments shows that requiring law enforcement officers to wear body cams can reduce the amount of citizen complaints by a remarkable 93 percent.
The study, “Contagious Accountability,” followed 2,000 random officers in the United States and United Kingdom to determine whether officers are really more likely to act professionally if they know their actions are being videotaped.
After following the officers for a year, the researchers noted: “Across the seven experimental sites, 1,539 complaints were lodged against police officers in the 12 months preceding the study, or 1.20 complaints per officer. The number of complaints lodged against the police then dropped in the posttreatment period to 113, or 0.08 complaints per officer. This marks an overall reduction of 93% in the incidence of complaints.”
One interesting point the researchers made was that the cameras do more than protect citizens from wrongdoing on the part of police. They found that suspects aware that police are wearing body cams during interactions in public are far less likely to file “disingenuous” complaints against officers.
“I cannot think of any [other] single intervention in the history of policing that dramatically changed the way that officers behave, the way that suspects behave, and the way they interact with each other,” Barak Ariel, the study’s lead author, told BBC.
The new study adds to a growing body of research which proves that body cameras benefit both police and the citizens they encounter.
A similar study out last year from Ariel’s Institute of Criminology (IOC) at Cambridge University showed that body cam policies produced drastic reductions in violence from officers as well as a drop in abusive behavior by civilians during police-public encounters.
Researchers examined 12 months of policing by officers wearing body cameras in Rialto, California, in 2012, finding an increased “self-awareness” of all parties involved in police interactions when the cameras are present.
That accounted for a 59 percent reduction in officer use of force and an 87 percent drop in the number of complaints against officers from the previous year.
Still, police departments in the U.S. are incorporating body cams at a snail’s pace despite significant government investment in promoting body cam policies.
On Monday, the Department of Justice again tried to speed things along by granting $20 million in taxpayer funds to equip 106 police departments throughout the country with new body cams.
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