Body cams for N.Y.C. police as a check on 'stop and frisk': a good idea?
The judge who found the NYPD's stop and frisk policy to be unconstitutional wants the city to test body cameras on officers, as a possible remedy. Experts see pros and cons. Early data from other police departments are encouraging.
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“And part of the problem is when people start expecting that the camera will always be there to give them the ‘eyewitness’ account, if you will, the full account of what the officer is seeing. That can be an issue when those cameras are not available in certain instances,” says Mr. LoRusso, who also wrote a book about these issues in “When Cops Kill: The Aftermath of a Critical Incident.”Skip to next paragraph
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Yet some of the early results from police departments using body cams are promising. In a study Scheindlin cited in her ruling, a small police department in Rialto, Calif., had half of its 54 officers wear body cameras. After a year, there were 88 percent fewer complaints filed against officers, compared with the year before. In addition, the department reported a 59 percent decrease in officers' use of force – this with only half the force wearing cameras.
Police departments in Las Vegas and Phoenix are also trying their own pilot programs. In Phoenix, the department has equipped about 50 of its 1,400 officers with body cams for a study with Arizona State University.
"We want to know how it affects an officer's job," Sgt. Tommy Thompson told the AP. "Are there people who will say, 'Listen, turn off that camera or I'm not going to talk to you?' When people are being filmed, do they calm down?"
But questions are being raised again about the logistics of privacy – to say nothing about the amount of video New York's 34,500 officers will accumulate.
“Police agencies are going to have to decide, do we keep these for 30 days? Who has access to the video?” says Professor Burke. “You want to make sure that the video cannot be manipulated. It may be activated by the police officer, but they don’t have the liberty to make any changes to it, and that’s a very good thing. So you want to have a remote site, for the protection of all parties concerned, so there’s no skepticism that the police manipulated this.”
At the end of New York's one-year pilot program, independent monitor Peter Zimroth will work with city officials to decide if body-worn cameras have helped rectify the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk problems. They will also determine whether financial and administrative costs may outweigh the program’s benefits.
“I still get concerned when the perspective of the officer – whether or not they reasonably and subjectively believe their life, or the life of a third person was in jeopardy – is now being subjected to the technological limitations of cameras,” says LoRusso.
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