Wednesday, September 9, 2015

"Year of SDPD body cameras yields surprises"

After having police officer body cameras in place for one full year, the San Diego Police Department has issued a report regarding how the technology affected police behavior and activities. This comes from a story in the San Diego Union Tribune:
San Diego police officers outfitted with body cameras have received fewer complaints from the public but have also used more force — a finding that surprised department leaders. ... Complaints against officers fell 23 percent between July 2014 and June 2015 and instances of force increased 10 percent in the same time period, the report said. ... A 2012 study of the Rialto Police Department, which was at the forefront of the body camera trend, found there was a 60 percent decrease in use-of-force incidents after cameras were deployed. ... That was not the case in the San Diego study where use-of-force instances increased 10 percent between July 2014 and June 2015, compared to the year before. ... Although use of force climbed, the report found that both complaints against officers and allegations made against officers fell after body cameras were put into use. A complaint can include more one allegation. Complaints fell 23 percent, while allegations fell 44 percent. ... The report revealed a sizable drop in the number of allegations that weren’t sustained, from 19 to 3. With the help of body cameras, investigators can more easily determine what happened during an officer’s interaction with a citizen, which is good news for everyone, Zimmerman said. 

My suspicion is that having body cameras will result in fewer bogus complaints by citizens against the police and fewer bogus reports by cops. Perhaps the reason that use-of-force incidents increased in San Diego is that, prior to having body cameras, some cops were using force but not reporting it, because they were unsure if it was justified.
It seems to me no bad (other than the expense) can come from having cameras in place. The questions seem to revolve around what to do with the videos after the incident. Should the general public or the media be able to see these videos in every case? Should the cops see the videos before they write up their reports?
My view is that the police officer involved and his superiors and the civilian interacting with the police officer should always have the right to see the video. And if the civilian involved does not object, the public should have the right to petition to see the video, just like in a public records request.
A side issue--which is discussed in the U-T article--is how officers can better deal with civilians suffering from psychiatric issues. I would think those are among the hardest for any cop to resolve; and often, because crazy people can become violent, the most likely to result in deadly force if things escalate. I don't know the answer to this issue. The use of body cameras won't solve the psychiatric interactions for cops. However, employing mental health professionals to work with the police on these cases--as most agencies in Yolo County are now doing--seems like the best approach to me.
Along those lines, Chief Zimmerman is quoted in the U-T article saying, “This first year of data all seems to suggest that (body cameras) aren’t the end-all solution to all social issues. We are going to need to enhance other current strategies that are effective, such as our psychiatric emergency response teams … our homeless outreach team … and our crisis-response team officers.”

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