Body Cameras, Football and your PD
Findings from the First-Ever Study on Body Cameras

Written by Retired Lt. Ricky Rhodes of Tigard PD/FBINAA #220

Police Body Camera

“Individualized HD cameras were installed on the officers’ uniforms and systematically recorded every police-public interaction for a year.” The results will surprise you.

The study “The Effects of Body-Worn Cameras on Police use of Force” is the first ever study to examine the effects of wearing personal body cameras on police behavior.

The idea is based upon ‘deterrence theory’ which simply states that being watched encourages socially desirable behavior. A number of studies have shown that people being watched tend to change their behavior especially when the observer is a person of authority. How does this translate when surveillance isn’t a person, but a camera?

The Study

The subject of the study was Rialto Police Department (CA), a midsized agency with 115 sworn officers. Rialto has its own set of problems with a homicide rate that is 50% higher than the US average and 20% of its residents living below the poverty line. In short, it’s a place where police use of force may be more warranted than most.

Before we get into the nitty gritty let’s just establish the definition of police use of force. The authors of the study define its as “anything more than basic control and includes use of OC spray, baton, Taser, canine bite or firearm 1.”

Taser HD Axon Flex video/audio cameras

Taser HD Axon Flex video/audio cameras

The study randomly assigned 54 frontline officers to either have no camera or wear a Taser HD Axon Flex video/audio cameras for their shift over the course of a year. At the end of the study 50,000 hours of police-public interactions were recorded and analyzed.

The Results Are in!

There was a 62% drop in police use of force and an 89% drop in public complaints compared to the year before the study. Even more convincing is that those who were not assigned a camera recorded twice as many police use of force events than the group assigned the camera.

In one year there was a 62% drop in Use of Force cases and an 89% drop in Public Complaints

Reviewing the footage, it was found that force was only used when the subject was physically abusive or resisting arrest and were all initiated by the public while the camera was being used. Without the camera, officers often resorted to use of force when no physical threat was present.

Are Cameras Preventing Officers from Making Contact?

A possible concern is that the cameras may be causing officers to hesitate in making contact for fear they are doing the wrong thing. In other words, do cameras cause officers to second guess their actions constantly?

Chief Tony Farrar

Chief Tony Farrar, Rialto PD

Tony Farrar, chief of police at the time of the study weighed in on the concern:

“Actually, our patrol officers made 3,000 more contacts during the test year than the year before and during the experiment, we surveyed the officers’ attitudes. They indicated that they didn’t feel any significant change in their ability to do the job. They weren’t afraid or hesitant to do what needed to be done on a daily basis.”

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What about Public Behavior?

The focus of the study was on the effects of body cameras and police behavior, but how did it effect public behavior?

Based upon police feedback and footage analysis, civilians who were aware they were being filmed tended to act more cooperatively. Chief Farrar explained, “I think it’s a mixture: Officers become more professional, and citizens tend to behave better.”

Also interesting to note is the massive reduction in public complaints. In fact, the total number for that year was only three. Rialto PD was finding that people that intended to file a complaint would often retract it once they were shown footage of the altercation.

Training Potential and Evidence

A benefit that is often overlooked is the training potential that body cameras offer police departments. Footage can be used in early stage training and can also be used to constantly improve officer performance. Think about it like watching your football team’s playback. You can go back and analyze your mistakes and make improvements on subsequent plays. The same concept can be applied to your department.

Football Playback

An even bigger advantage is the immense catalogue of video evidence you will be collecting. Of course there is the issue of cost with collecting and storing thousands of hours of digital footage.

Chief Farrar rationalizes, “The investment pays out in the end. We’ll capture better evidence, save time and money on IA investigations, cut down on frivolous lawsuits and help the DA’s office improve filings and conviction rates.”

My Experience at Tigard PD

As a lieutenant at Tigard PD, we had cameras on our cars, motors and some body cameras dating back to 2005. Having conducted numerous investigations into citizen complaints both before and after, I found that when video and audio were used, the “not sustained” rate for complaints dramatically decreased and our “unfounded” rate increased. Cases showing an officer acting inappropriately were rare but easily addressed and any instances where officers were not following policy were easy to discern when you had a training issue vs. when the policy was not effective. Most notably, we were saved from several Use of Force suits and a claim of criminal behavior by an officer.

Body Cameras

If you haven’t implemented body cameras at your department, consider the findings from the research presented in this article as well as from my experience, do your own research and decide whether the benefits outweigh the initial investment.

About Retired Lt. Ricky Rhodes

Ret. Lt. Ricky Rhodes

Ricky has over 30 years of experience serving in the police force and is an active member of the FBINAA community, so lets just say he may know a thing or two. Currently he works at InTime helping police departments solve their complex scheduling requirements.