back to article Complaints against cops down 93% thanks to bodycams – study

The introduction of body-worn cameras (BWCs) has lead to a 93 per cent drop in complaints made against the police, according to new research. A year-long study of almost 2,000 officers across forces in the UK and US, led by the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology, found that the use of BWCs resulted in …

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This is outstanding.

This story makes my day, assuming the study is reasonably unbiased and statistically valid. It's not often lately that a study actually supports what most people have been saying, and a few particular law-and-order-above-all-else types have been denying. Now please excuse me while I go send this link to the heads of the Boston Police union leadership.

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Holmes

Re: This is outstanding.

Can you staple this to it as a covering note?

Icon: Not a police officer

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Re: This is outstanding.

It could of course be that people don't make baseless complaints when they know the police have video evidence which would refute them. You can interpret this either way - but frankly I'm happy with the result, whatever the mechanism is.

Either police or behaving better or the public are behaving better or (gasp) a bit of both. Win/win/win.

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Re: This is outstanding.

In my limited experience with the police, video cameras stop them threatening members of the public with a truncheon for asking for their badger number ( my friend was attacked and the police caught him defending himself, they were heavy handed so I asked for the badge number of the office who'd removed it ).

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Studying police officers improves their behaviour

This same study found the same drop in complaints regarding the officers who weren't using the bodycams.

When both the control group and the active group have the same result, that doesn't indicate that the active group had any effect.

It shows that the act of studying has an effect.

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Re: Studying police officers improves their behaviour

So the answer is for police management to ... well manage police?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: So the answer is for police management to ... well manage police?

Depends what their idea of police management is ....

Many years ago, I was on a works forum, and a proposal for flextime was floated. The management attendees objected on the basis that it would require them to monitor employees performance and attendance to ensure the system was working.

I politely pointed out that was what they were supposed to do anyway - although if they weren't it certainly explained a few things.

I may be wrong, but the forum was disbanded soon after. I certainly never attended another.

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Re: Studying police officers improves their behaviour

It shows that IF PEOPLE THINK you have a camera, they will behave better.

By extension, if they think you don't, they will make up stuff and complain.

It doesn't mean you can get by on placebo alone, it means that people talk a lot less rubbish when they think their words may have been recorded and come back to bite them (e.g. making a false accusation against an officer).

Which, from my point of view, is extremely telling. It means that - as always held - most complaints against police are made up, and are just contributing to the problem of the police's (by no means squeaky clean) image.

Quite literally, this just stops the "Oh, he pushed me down the stairs and beat me up" "jokes" that people like to make up when nobody is recording. Put a camera in and they are a lot less likely to want to be convicted for wasting police time with such things.

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Re: Studying police officers improves their behaviour

Yep.

There needs to be a proper trial over 6 months covering an entire department where:-

1) There is a clearly identifiable (and working) camera.

2) There is a camera that the public thinks is working, but the policeman knows is not.

3) There is a camera that the police thinks is not working, but actually is. (ie issue a camera where the "off" button only turns off the recording light but actually continues recording)

4) Certain people have no camera for the entire trial

I personally would find the results of the number of complaints made against an officer, and proven true or proven false quite interesting. I mean, you'd assume that group 1 would have a clear reduction over group 4, but would group 2 have a drop in claims, and would group 3 end up catching a lot of officers out?

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Re: Studying police officers improves their behaviour

It means that - as always held - most complaints against police are made up, and are just contributing to the problem of the police's (by no means squeaky clean) image.

Or, conversely, that complaints are valid, but the cops modified their behaviour when recorded.

It is likely a combination of the two. However, the most telling part of the article is:

The cameras create an equilibrium between the account of the officer and the account of the suspect about the same event

It is well known that a police officer's word will be held in higher standing in the law than an ordinary citizen's. If it's your word against the cop's, the cop's will be taken. This sometimes encourages errant behaviour, and the power sometimes goes to the cop's head. If they are being recorded, it protects both honest cops and law abiding citizens.

Personally, I would say that cops should all wear cameras, and they should be recording at all while they are on duty (with limited exceptions).

One last point, there was a recent article about cops in the US involved in a shooting, saying that most weren't turned on. Surely it would be straight forward to hook the camera to the holster such that it is recording whenever they have their weapons out*?

* Yes, I'm aware of the double entendre and sniggered myself while writing it.

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@Lee D

Typical cop apologist. You're assuming that the 93% drop in complaints was all bogus complaints against the police, but seem unwilling to believe that some of those complaints were legitimate - i.e. that the actions didn't happen because the officer knew he couldn't about it because there would be video evidence.

Police cameras work both ways - if they are on all the time without any way for the officer to shut them off. They protect the police against false statements about their conduct and provide evidence that can help convict perpetrators for crimes or admissions of guilt that are caught on camera. They protect the public against stops without cause, unnecessary use of force, planting evidence, etc.

It is so blindingly obvious why certain police unions are against cameras or want the officers to have the ability to turn them on or off at will. The silent majority wants to protect the small minority of officers who are worse criminals than most of the people they're arresting. The thin blue line is the problem here. If the good officers had the courage to stand up to the bad ones, there wouldn't be any need for cameras.

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Re: Studying police officers improves their behaviour

"It shows that IF PEOPLE THINK you have a camera, they will behave better."

The "study" does not tell us what people were thinking -- I won't call it an experiment, as it was clearly not even double-blind -- but we do know it involved geographically distinct forces. We also know that apparent placebo effects (and increasingly, nocebo effects) are usually interpreted as bringing into question the experimental hypothesis.

In an experiment where the control shows the same result, that generally suggests any observed change in behaviour cannot be attributed to the controlled variable. Indeed this is the reason for having controls. But in this case it is being reported (with the active encouragement of those involved in the research) as showing that the effect is so powerful that it spreads. If this were an experiment on homeopathic treatment, then this type of sloppy post hoc analysis offered by the researchers would be equivalent to arguing that homeopathic treatment is so powerful it actually cures people in the control group --- perhaps it does, but that would be a very controversial analysis!

There are other aspects of the publicity behind this publication that are concerning, including the conflation of "the number of reports of attacks" with "the number of attacks" (which are *very* different things), and the glossing over of the apparent increase in force used by the police in the camera wearing group, with no analysis of whether this was justified. If this increase in force did not occur in the control group, then that would be the key finding, not the reduction in complaints across experimental and control groups.

As with many things, the impact of body cameras is not at all straightforward.

For another perspective: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2014/09/ferguson_body_cams_myths_about_police_body_worn_recorders.html

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Holmes

Re: Studying police officers improves their behaviour

"It shows that the act of studying has an effect."

Please prove that quantum mechanical observer participation has an effect!

Seriously though, I rather think it's a no brainer - when people - cops and perps alike - know their every action is being recorded [a recording that in both cases is being made outwith both their control] - it has the fascinating effect of improving their behaviour.

Funny that.

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Re: Studying police officers improves their behaviour

He wasn't talking about a quantum observer, but an observer of a study. Google Hawthorne Effect.

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Re: Studying police officers improves their behaviour

There is another possible factor. As the shifts when the officers had the cameras switched on were randomly chosen, after a period of time both the officers and the public would start to get used to their presence and start to act differently even without the cameras.

Interestingly in several regions the number of complaints was lower for the officers not wearing cameras, rather than those wearing them.

Perhaps the knowledge that they are being studied is enough to change police behaviour (it's unlikely to be changing the public's behaviour).

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Re: Studying police officers improves their behaviour

"It doesn't mean you can get by on placebo alone, it means that people talk a lot less rubbish when they think their words may have been recorded and come back to bite them (e.g. making a false accusation against an officer)."

And, of course, the opposite is true too. "Over enthusiastic" cops who at times seem to make up new laws as they go along. There's no end of Youtube videos showing cops doing this, in particular telling people they aren't allowed to take photos or make videos in public places.

As has been mentioned, the very act of being part of a study seems to have caused the same reduction in complaints against the Police. Except in that case, only the Police officer knows they are part of the study, not the member of public they are interacting with. So that begs the question of just WHO is the cause of these "spurious" complaints against the Police.

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Re: Studying police officers improves their behaviour

Yes 3 would catch a lot out

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Next step - capturing sales speil ?

I've started thinking it would be an idea to wear a bodycam when discussing mobile phone contracts, or building work.

"No, you DID say you would include rubbish disposal in your quote"

"No, you did say you would clean the gutters inclusive"

See you in court.

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Re: Next step - capturing sales speil ?

Been there. Done that.

Record your phone calls. In the UK it's perfectly legal and you're not required to tell the other side (large companies might feel they have to warn you, personal users DO NOT). Smartphone recording apps are ten-a-penny and can be used to great effect.

But, then, I've always insisted on stuff in writing or by email, because I can pull it out in ten year's time and screw people to the wall with it. Been there, done that, ten times more often. And, yes, I have every email going back to 1996.

I have used the phrase "Oh, you're going to take me to court? Thanks! That saves me a lot of hassle, I was about to initiate small claims action against yourself for the same incident. Where would you like me to submit my copy of my evidence for your lawyer?" more times than I care to think about.

Strangely, have never been to court. Odd, that,

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Re: Next step - capturing sales speil ?

Oh I do like a good game of bluff calling...

"Do this or we'll take you to court"

"OK, which one? Let me know when you've set a date and I'll clear my diary. Should be a good day; I'll look forward to it."

"Oh, err, umm, ok" [click]

Never heard from again.

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Re: Next step - capturing sales speil ?

I've had at least two get past the threatening stage into the "we are taking action stage".

Then I wrote a nice letter explaining why I thought it might be quite silly of them.

Listing things like unlawful cancellation of contracts, backdating the cancellation, and then trying to pretend it didn't happen or that I'd requested it.

Or sending me a letter telling me I was fully paid up and had "nothing to pay" in plain English, followed the very next day by a demand for thousands of pounds that they wanted to take me to court for (which, even if it were right, claimed that I'd not paid them for months and my bank had refused the transactions - which was news to both myself and the bank upon investigation, as the bank had never had any additional money requested and yet had paid the usual agreed monthly payments for months without issue). Sadly, they never thought I'd keep ALL the letters. One of which they didn't even have a record of themselves (but was on their letterhead, franked at their business, signed by them, etc.). Whoops.

Not counting the one who wanted to take me to court over a contract. That never even arrived for me to sign, let alone agree to, or be bound by. When I asked them for a copy of my signed contract, they realised their error and backed down.

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Lesson here

Have police wear body cams and have them turned on 100% of the time.

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M7S
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Re: Lesson here

Alas no, not always. If uniformed police have responded to a 999 call and gone to a house to interview someone vulnerable making a complaint about something sensitive (for example a sexual assault), whilst the victim will hopefully accept a written account needs to be made, and possibly a court appearance might ensue, having video of them describing the events which could (should there be some kind of mistake) be leaked might just put them off.

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Re: Lesson here

On a court's demand, police should be REQUIRED to give whatever footage is asked for.

Always recording, yes.

Always accessible on a whim, no.

Witnesses, protected identities, military incidents, all sorts make it too difficult to make it fully open.

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Re: Lesson here

for example a sexual assault

Yes, I'll agree there are times when recording would need to be disabled. However, the default position should be "on", with strict guidelines on when they can be disabled, and disciplinary action for stopping them when unnecessary.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Lesson here

I would rather they were linked to other equipment such that when an officer pulls their taser/gun/baton, they start recording. Maybe even triggering on loud noises (shouting, gunfire, etc).

Throw in a manual start button as well, but no ability stop an automatically-started recording.

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Re: Lesson here

Agreed, there are times they need to be turned off.

If the default is on, and the times it is off are logged with the reason it was turned off (ie, confidential discussion with victim), then it covers everything nicely.

That way we can build trust back into the system.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Lesson here

Yes, I'll agree there are times when recording would need to be disabled.

No, they should not - in those circumstances you'll need evidence to protect the police as well.

The footage should be marked as sensitive so that only select people can access it, but make on exclusion and you start a whole avalanche of other cases where the cam may need to be off, and you're back at square one. Record it all, but control who can see it.

That does, of course, imply a more secure system than they have at present, but I see that more as an argument to address that too.

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Re: Lesson here

No, they should not - in those circumstances you'll need evidence to protect the police as well.

The footage should be marked as sensitive so that only select people can access it

The problem is that this will discourage some vulnerable people from talking.

AFAIK, the first step with many abuse victims (etc) is often for them to admit what's happening "off-the-record". If the camera cannot be disabled, nothing is off the record. Even if the cop tells them it will be "marked as sensitive", they are still being recorded, and the victim may be scared that this will fall into the hands of their abuser.

The camera must be capable of being disabled. However, there must be strict guidelines, the action should be logged, and the cop should have to provide a statement explaining why it was turned off. All such records should be reviewed independently, and the cop subject to disciplinary action (or, in serious cases, legal action) if it is deemed that they should not have turned it off.

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Re: Lesson here

Have police wear body cams and have them turned on 100% of the time.

This.

It should never be at the officer's discretion, that just invites abuse. And all cops should be required to wear them, and they must be recording with no option to disable, at all times on duty.

Some commenters suggest recording should be shut off in certain sensitive cases. No. Just no! The recording protects both the victim and those attending. Recordings aren't just released freely to any bugger that wants them.

The victim will be photographed in such cases anyway. Being on low-res body-cam doesn't change this.

Mark sensitive recordings as sensitive - a "sensitive" button on the camera is sufficient. Sensitive recordings should not be viewed or released without a fully audited approval and supervision chain. In fact, no recording should ever be released without this, but more so for sensitive recordings.

Having grey areas leads to opportunists gaming the system, and discretionary recording makes the whole exercise pointless.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Lesson here

The problem is that this will discourage some vulnerable people from talking.

AFAIK, the first step with many abuse victims (etc) is often for them to admit what's happening "off-the-record".

I can see where you're coming from, although that is more an issue of trust. To be honest, you have a good point there, not quite sure there is a valid answer to that, I can see the same issue with someone trying to inform the police against the wishes of their boss (criminal or not). Or maybe a cam can only be disabled by another cop - that ensures there's at least a need to coerce another person if the act is a coverup. No easy answer...

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Re: Lesson here

"I would rather they were linked to other equipment such that when an officer pulls their taser/gun/baton, they start recording. Maybe even triggering on loud noises (shouting, gunfire, etc)."

And where is the recording of the events that lead to the weapon being drawn? The main use for bodycams is to record all the events leading up to the main incident.

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Big Brother

Double edged sword

So, let me get this straight, because (some of) the cops are violent, law breaking scum, people are actually pushing for them to travel about scanning the public at large, feeding into a central database allowing them to add it into the face recognition and license plate scanning systems so that they can monitor us not just from static CCTV cameras, but mobile monitoring units (police)?

Seems to me we're actively asking for a panopticon because the people who really want it are misbehaving, i.e. we're rewarding their bad behaviour.

For those who say it will be a locally stored unit, only viewable under review when a complaint or court case requires it, well, tasers, RIPA, pepper spray, FISA courts, civil asset forfeiture, RICO etc. etc.

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Anonymous Coward

Mandatory

As the article suggests, and as was explained in more detail on the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning, if the purpose of the cameras is to provide accountability to both the police and those they interact with, then it should be on at all times and not just when the officer chooses; the opportunities for abuse by precisely those officers the camera should be monitoring are self-evident.

Another issue not covered here is that the retention time for this video is currently 30 days, but members of the public have up to one year to raise a complaint - but the number of complaints that are raised within 30 days is actually very small; a fact that the police know well.

Hence in order to replicate the results of this trial - where all the participants knew they were being scrutinised continuously - it is necessary to have the body cams working throughout each officers shift, and for the video to be retained for at least one year.

Unfortunately the moment the guidelines for existing users of police body cams is that the officer has the discretion to turn it on or off, and that the resulting self-edited video is only retained for 30 days.

Hands up all those who think Theresa May's boys in blue will change that...

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I think that the fairly obvious solution is to always record, (outside of not-responding-to-a-call restroom trips), but to keep all of the video encrypted and unindexed, beyond badge #, time, and location unless needed. In the event that lawyers get involved, the relevant sections can be pulled and reviewed. The issue then becomes a key management issue for the repository of the video. (Imperfect, but no worse than everywhere else.)

Add an automatic deletion policy (say 30 days for no-contact periods, 90 days for no arrest), and you have reasonable forward security as well.

It would be helpful if the legislatures were nimble enough to clarify that these videos are personal & sensitive, but I expect it will be the judges extending existing principles. (As usual.)

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Perhaps it's time to issue body cams to alll...

...football managers. And politicians.

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Pics or it didn't happen

New defence lawyer tactic.

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It's my feeling that all officers should Have a (WORKING) body-cam on their persons at all times. I'm also of the belief that at any time an officer is involved in a shooting, the entire video, uncut, must be released to the public within no greater than twenty-four (24) hours.

You want to restore public trust in the cops? Then make it known that their actions when deploying lethal force will be subject to the review of world + dog. That'll improve their goddamn behavior, which will, in turn, improve the public trust.

"But cops will be afraid to deploy their weapons!"

Good! An officer of the peace is charged with protecting and serving their community, not a foreign soldier charged with taking and holding territory. Deploying a firearm should be the LAST resort, to be deployed on a "This guy is DEFINITELY about to start shooting/stabbing/IS shooting/stabbing" basis, NOT on a "I think this guy might possibly be armed and I don't know whether or not he has any intent to use it on us and I don't care OPEN FIRE!" basis.

Part of being a cop is putting your own personal safety beneath that of the public, and guess what? A member of the public who gets shot for no reason but that his or her skin tone was frightening to a police officer is still a member of the public.

"But, sensitive stuff!"

I'm sorry, but no. If you can say it to an officer of the peace, you can say it to a camera where it can become evidence in a court of law. If you can't, then I'm sorry, but your needs for confidentiality are outweighed by the public interest in having absolute confidence that the police are not deploying physical force, especially terminal physical force, unjustifiably.

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Just as a follow-up, this came across CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/30/us/california-police-shooting-video/index.html

"Cop shoots black man who doesn't have a gun" - incindiary, and in the current political climate, explosive.

But watch the video, the jackass pulls a vaping device with a silver, cylindrical tip out of his pocket, aims it at an officer like it's a firearm, takes a shooting stance - yeah. I'd have shot him myself. I don't think anyone reasonable can watch that video and NOT reach the same conclusion. He was brandishing an object which resembles a weapon upon first glance in the manner of a weapon, and it was treated as though it were a weapon.

[edit] Upon further review, I think I need to recant the use of the word "Jackass." Jackass implies an irresponsible stupid.

After reviewing the article, wherein it's said by the man's mother that he was not mentally ill, but was mourning a friend, I think it's very clear that what he did was commit suicide-by-cop.

I'm going to upgrade "jackass" to "incandescent asshole," because now he's set off protests in his hometown and pushed the guilt of killing him off onto another man, instead of manning up and taking it himself and doing his own self; not to mention that other, less sensible people are going to blame the officer who fired.

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