Policing the police
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From Albuquerque to Philadelphia, police brutality has shaken communities and destroyed lives. In the city of brotherly love, 300 civil rights lawsuits were filed against the police department last year alone, costing millions in litigation and damages. In some cases, even video from a cell phone or security camera did not provide enough evidence to prove police abuse.
To combat the issue, one California town asked a simple question — how can we reduce the use of force and the number of civilian complaints?
The answer was to strap on video cameras.
The Rialto, Cali., study began in the 100,000-population town when half its police force equipped themselves with small cameras. The officers were required to turn on the cameras when leaving a patrol car to speak with a civilian, although the camera automatically records and retains the last 30 seconds of film when turned off.
In one year, the department saw a dramatic drop in complaints — just three were filed compared to 24 in the previous year. What’s more, police behaved differently when filmed. Officers resolved situations without force more often. When force was used, it was twice as likely to have been used by officers without cameras.
The idea is catching on. The Washington, D.C. Police Complaints Board recommended the use of body cameras in the Metropolitan Police Department and the New Jersey Senate just passed a bill to require new vehicles to be equipped with dashboard cameras.
In cities across the country, mandatory body cameras could impact the number of stop-and-frisks, which disproportionately affect Black and Latino individuals, as well as discourage abuse of power, although the camera itself could be abused without laws in place to protect the victim’s or perpetrator’s privacy.