The concrete effects of body cameras on police liability


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Suat Cubukcu, American University; Erdal Tekin, American University; Nusret Sahin, University of Stockton, and Volkan Topalli, Georgia State University

(THE CONVERSATION) Without video evidence, it is unlikely that we have ever heard of George Floyd or witnessed the pursuit of his killer, a Minneapolis cop.

The recording of Floyd’s murder echoed the documentation of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two black men who were killed at the hands of the police.

The dissemination of such videos – witness cell phones, dashcams, and body-worn cameras of police – has helped stir up a protest movement centered on police accountability and systemic racism in the United States.

They also decreased trust in law enforcement, which fell to its lowest level since 1993, according to a 2020 Gallup survey. Nineteen percent of black Americans said they trusted the police, compared with 56. % of American whites. And a majority of those polled, 56%, called for major police reforms, with 88% black and 51% white.

Much discussion of police reform revolves around recruiting police officers, training processes, and re-budgeting or “funding” the police.

But another way to reform the police is to make police services more transparent and officers more accountable. Over the past decade, the implementation of body camera technology has rapidly spread to major metropolitan police departments, including Washington, New York, and Chicago.

We are criminologists and economists, and our recent study found that providing police officers with body cameras has a substantial effect on police liability investigations. The cameras have also helped reduce racial prejudice against complainant citizens.

More fairness in investigations

The vast majority of complaints from the American public against police officers are dismissed.

Only 2.1% of citizen complaints filed in Chicago between 2010 and 2016 resulted in disciplinary action against police officers, according to the Invisible Institute, a journalism organization that “collects and publishes information about police misconduct in Chicago ”in his Citizens Police Data Project. . This rate is about a third lower when the complainants are African Americans.

There is a similar pattern in cities like Columbus, Ohio, and Portland, Oregon.

Traditional strategies for dealing with police misconduct have focused on the internal affairs divisions of the police services, which investigate possible incidents of breaches of the law and misconduct within the police force, or on commissions. Citizen Review Review, which investigates citizen complaints. But both have been criticized for being biased against the citizens.

Such police misconduct investigations have relied heavily on eyewitness testimony, often producing “he said / she said” patterns of erroneous evidence and, therefore, inconclusive results.

However, that changed with the introduction of body camera technology.

While there have been dozens of studies on the impact of body cameras on police behavior – with promising results in reducing police wrongdoing – their effect on resolving citizen complaints has been relatively little studied.

We recently looked at an eight-year period – 2013 to 2020 – of citizen complaint data from the Chicago Police Civil Liability Office. During this period, the Chicago Police Department assigned these cameras to its officers on a phased basis, district by district over a 17-month period, from June 2016 to December 2017.

This allowed us to conduct the first study to estimate their effect on the results of inquiries into citizen complaints over several time periods.

We found a significant effect on police liability following the implementation of body cameras. Police officers were 64% more likely to be disciplined after a complaint was investigated.

In line with existing studies, we identified a considerable degree of racial disparity in resolving citizen complaints prior to the implementation of police cameras. Complaints from blacks were more likely to be dismissed – 53% versus 38% – and less likely to be supported – 10% versus 21% – than those from whites.

But following their widespread implementation in Chicago, body cameras have largely eliminated these racial disparities, according to our study.

Complainants from all racial groups have benefited from body cameras, with a higher overall rate of disciplinary action. We found that the percentages of dismissed citizen complaints were reduced to 16%, 18%, and 15% for white, black, and Hispanic complainants, respectively.

Our findings first illustrated the existence of racial bias in the dismissal of police complainants. They subsequently show that the introduction of body cameras can change this. And the continued implementation of such cameras should continue to narrow the disparities that play a significant role in the distrust of people of color in law enforcement.

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Many policymakers see this technology as a potential change in the relationship between police and citizens. This can protect officers from spurious complaints and make them more responsible for actual wrongdoing.

Seven states – Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Carolina – have already made the use of body cameras mandatory.

Because body cameras produce an objective account of interactions between police and citizens, they have the potential to overcome previous weaknesses in the quality of evidence.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here:


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