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Police Body Cameras Can Prevent Use of Force

Researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology (IoC) in the UK have published the first full scientific study of the landmark crime experiment they conducted on policing with body-worn-cameras in Rialto, California in 2012. The results have been cited by police departments around the world as justification for rolling out this technology.

A release from the university explains that the experiment showed that evidence capture is just one output of body-worn video, and that the technology is perhaps most effective at actually preventing escalation during police-public interactions, whether that’s abusive behavior towards police or unnecessary use of force by police.

The researchers say the knowledge that events are being recorded creates “self-awareness” in all participants during police interactions. This is the critical component that turns body-worn video into a ‘preventative treatment’: causing individuals to modify their behavior in response to an awareness of ‘third-party’ surveillance by cameras acting as a proxy for legal courts — as well as courts of public opinion — should unacceptable behavior take place.

During the 12-month Rialto experiment, use-of-force by officers wearing cameras fell by 59% and reports against officers dropped by 87% against the previous year’s figures.

However, the research team caution that the Rialto experiment is only the first step on a long road of evidence-gathering, and that more needs to be known about the impact of body-worn cameras in policing before departments are “steamrolled” into adopting the technology — with vital questions remaining about how normalizing the provision of digital video as evidence will affect prosecution expectations, as well as the storage technology and policies that will be required for the enormous amount of data captured.

President Obama recently promised to spend $75m of federal funds on body-worn-video to try and stem the hemorrhaging legitimacy of US police forces among communities across the United States after the killing of several unarmed black men by police caused nationwide anguish, igniting waves of protest.

But some in the US question the merit of camera technology given that the officer responsible for killing Eric Garner — a 43-year-old black man suffocated during arrest for selling untaxed cigarettes — was acquitted by a grand jury despite the fact that a bystander filmed the altercation on a mobile phone, with footage showing an illegal ‘chokehold‘ administered on Garner who repeatedly states: “I can’t breathe”. (A medical examiner ruled the death a homicide).

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