Posts Tagged ‘BWV’

I’ve been posting (here and here) about the increasing interest and mounting evidence to support the use of body worn video (BWV) camera systems for police.   BWV pilot studies have been ordered in New York by the judge who found the New York  Police Department’s stop and frisk program unconstitutional, so the question for many is what these BWV systems do, and what they offer police and the public.

Reveal, a new radio program jointly sponsored by the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Public Radio Exchange (PRX), ran an interesting story on BWV in its pilot episode, which aired on September 28 in my area. “Policing on Camera” put the interest in BWV and its growing use in the context of how a real police officer makes use of BWV, and what he thinks of this tool after using it for some time.  Click on the brief video, and you’ll get his point of view — both in his own words and (literally) from the camera, as he makes an arrest.  Sergeant Michael Williamson of the BART police department makes it clear that BWV is easy to use and benefits him and his fellow officers in multiple ways; he won’t go out on patrol without it.  Thanks to Reveal, you don’t have to take my word for it; see what he says.

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In my last post, I described the increasing interest in the use of body worn video (BWV) camera systems by police.  These systems have been in use for more than five years in the UK, where pilot studies (cited in my article in the Texas Tech Law Review) have largely approved of them; police officers in the U.K. who have used BWV have become its biggest supporters.

Now, we have the first rigorous study of the use of BWV in a U.S. police department.  In Rialto, California, Police Chief Tony Farrar became interested in the potential of BWV, and decided he wanted not just to have his officers try them, but to accurately measure their impact.  Rialto has a department of 60 sworn officers.  Farrar teamed with researcher Dr. Barak Ariel of Cambridge University, and the result is “Self-Awareness to Being Watched and Socially Desirable Behavior: A Field Experiment on the Use of Body-Worn Cameras on Police Use-of-Force.”  The bottom line of the study: on police shifts using in which officers used BWV, police use of force dropped 50 percent compared to shifts with no cameras; complaints against police were ten times higher on shifts without BWV compared to shifts using them.  According to a short description from the web site of the Police Foundation, where Chief Farrar is an Executive Fellow, the “extensive yearlong study” was a randomized controlled trial of “body-worn video cameras used in police patrol practices.”

Cameras were deployed to all patrol officers in the Rialto (CA) Police Department.  Every police patrol shift during the 12-month period was assigned to experimental or control conditions.  Wearing cameras was associated with dramatic reductions in use-of-force and complaints against officers.

It’s true of course that the Rialto Police Department is small compared to the NYPD, where the judge deciding the stop and frisk case has ordered that the police begin to use the cameras in some areas of New York City.  But that does not mean that BWV could not work in New York, and it certainly does not mean it is not worth trying the systems.  Perhaps more important, far more American police departments are closer in size to Rialto’s force than to New York.

The study is worth a good long look for anyone interested in the safety of police and the public, in improved police services, in protection of officers from bogus complaints, and in police accountability.  At the very least, it tells us that BWV should not be dismissed out of hand; it needs to be tried.

On August 19, the New York Times published an op-ed piece on the stop and frisk case by John Timoney, former first deputy commissioner of the NYPD and former chief of police in Philadelphia and Miami.  Mr. Timoney is a respected figure in American policing; his article, “The Real Costs of Policing the Police,” was a direct shot at Judge Scheindlin’s decision that the NYPD must change how it conducts stops and frisks.  I won’t characterize or excerpt Mr. Timoney’s piece; it’s short and speaks for itself.  I urge you to go to the link and read it.  But it deserves a reply: Mr. Timoney gets important things wrong, and fails to reckon with costs he prefers to ignore.

Judge Sheindlin did not find that “the benefits of ending what she considers to be unconstitutional stops would far outweigh any administrative hardships.”  In fact, Sheindlin made sure she stuck to the one job a court has in such a case: assessing whether or not it is constitutional.   She explicitly, and properly, declined to weigh the costs and benefits of the program.   

Second, Mr. Timoney encourages skepticism of the court’s order to begin pilot programs using body-worn video (BWV), based on the reality show “Cops.” But instead of phony TV, examine the comprehensive field studies of BWV done in Britain.  Officers using BWV found it extremely beneficial for recording evidence, creating records, more rapidly resolving cases, reducing public order offenses, and promoting successful prosecution of domestic violence offenses.  The cameras also, of course, facilitated greater police accountability in the bargain. (My law review article on BWV in the Texas Tech Law Review can be downloaded here.)

Third, Mr. Timoney says that the problem would solve itself without court intervention.  Stops have come down considerably in recent months; officers “have gotten the message.” Maybe some have.  But the statements of the NYPD leadership both during and after the trial strongly supporting the program as it has operated over the past six years shows those leaders want the program maintained, not reformed.

Most importantly, Mr. Timoney bemoans the costs of implementing Judge Sheindlin’s orders, and those costs will be considerable.  But he fails to acknowledge the costs to the many New Yorkers over the years who were stopped, questioned and frisked without reasonable suspicion.  Apparently, Mr. Timoney believes that if the Police Department or the city don’t pay a cost, it doesn’t count.  The judge’s decision makes clear that this simply isn’t true: a huge cost has been paid all along.