From New York City to Rialto, CA: Police Body Cameras
Issues include whether a mandatory worn-video appliance would compromise police duties and effectiveness; would politicize basic law enforcement; would provide social activists with a diversionary platform; would open the door to extensive past and present complaints leading to backlogs of lawsuits; would end up benefitting only the lawyers.
In its favor, there is demonstrated effectiveness of worn video in reducing police violence; subjecting law enforcement to review where abuses are found; establishing a trail of evidence against law breakers countering cries of minority rights infringement.
Ultimately this is Fourth Amendment vs Homeland Security and local police departments. While there is no question that domestic crime and terrorism must be countered, applying the same rules of engagement to local law enforcement will end up with federal regulation as an expedient and a political football where state regulation should be in force.
We like to say that pictures are worth a thousand words. But what is a video worth? Apparently, a lot when it comes to law enforcement and claims of police brutality, public conduct, and most everything in between.
In a full-year study with the police force in Rialto, California, that concluded in February 2013, researchers found that police used “force” half as many times as they had a year earlier. This coincided when a tiny camera with a 12-hour battery life was worn on police officer’s shirt pocket, hat, collar, or sunglasses. There were also only three complaints from the public during the study, compared to 28 complaints a year earlier.
This randomized controlled trail represents the first experimental evaluation of body-worn video cameras used in police patrol practices. Cameras were deployed to all patrol officers in the Rialto, California, Police Department. Every police patrol shift during the 12-month period was assigned to experimental or control conditions.
The Police Chief of the City of Rialto, CA, Tony Farrar and Cambridge University published the study. “The study was able to expose what happens when the level of certainty of apprehension for professional misconduct was set at 100%. These are social circumstances that are characterized with an inescapable panopticonic gaze,” stated the paper’s, co-author University of Cambridge criminology researcher Barak Ariel.
“When you put a camera on a police officer, they tend to behave a little better, follow the rules a little better,” Chief Farrar said. “And if a citizen knows the officer is wearing a camera, chances are the citizen will behave a little better.”
Wearing cameras was associated with dramatic reductions in use-of-force and complaints against officers. The authors conclude: “The findings suggest more than a 50% reduction in the total number of incidents of use-of-force compared to control-conditions, and nearly ten times more citizens’ complaints in the 12-months prior to the experiment.”
For over a decade, the New York City stop-question-and-frisk program has been a practice of the New York City Police Department by which police officers stop and question tens of thousands of pedestrians annually and frisk them for weapons and other contraband. The rules for stop, question, and frisk are found in New York State Criminal Procedure Law section 140.50, and are based on the decision of the 1968 United States Supreme Court in the case of Terry v. Ohio.
About 684,000 people were stopped in 2011. The vast majority of these people were African-American or Latino. Some judges have found that these stops are not based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), was a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court which held that the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures is not violated when a police officer stops a suspect on the street and frisks him or her without probable cause to arrest, if the police officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime and has a reasonable belief that the person “may be armed and presently dangerous.”
Law enforcement in the United States has been arguably built around providing some latitude to police officers to carry out their duties. As with all things human, the challenges to these norms come into play when people have different opinions on the facts of an event or situation.
What is reasonable search and seizure? What is reasonable suspicion? What is reasonable force? What constitutes reasonable in any situation at all? Does reasonable change depending on the person’s point of view? Most organizations and individuals are aware of the “reasonable expectation of privacy” guideline that exists when it comes to the use of video surveillance equipment. And the ACLU continues to champion the privacy cause to insure government does not abuse this technology.
And how do we, as a society, keep from devolving into a gaggle of people shouting “he said” and “she said” to prove our perspective point?
Juxtapose the Rialto, CA study with the August 2013 Southern District of New York Court opinion in Floyd V. City of New York by Judge Shira Scheindlin in New York’s Stop and Frisk practices.
The Plaintiff’s position in this case was that NYPD’s use of the Stop and Frisk was violating their Fourth Amendment rights to unlawful search and seizure because no reasonable cause could be validated and that those individuals being questioned and frisked were predominately minorities.
What if video could prove their point? What if NYPD police wore body cameras like Rialto, CA?
According to Court transcripts, the subject of NYPD police officers wearing “body-worn cameras” was inadvertently raised during the testimony of the City’s policing expert, James K. Stewart. The following discussion took place:
“But what happens is the departments, a lot of times, may not have . . . expertise and they may need some technical assistance, body worn cameras is an example and how much technology and where you store the information and stuff like that. They may not have it. And there may be other issues like psychological ideas about —
THE COURT: What do you think of body worn cameras?
THE WITNESS: I think it’s a good idea. We recommended it in Las Vegas. And we’re doing it in Phoenix as well.
THE COURT: Thank you.”
Judge Scheindlin’s resulting opinion was as follows:
“Video recordings will serve a variety of useful functions. First, they will provide a contemporaneous, objective record of stops and frisks, allowing for the review of officer conduct by supervisors and the courts. The recordings may either confirm or refute the belief of some minorities that they have been stopped simply as a result of their race, or based on the clothes they wore, such as baggy pants or a hoodie. Second, the knowledge that an exchange is being recorded will encourage lawful and respectful interactions on the part of both parties. Third, the recordings will diminish the sense on the part of those who file complaints that it is by creating an irrefutable record of what occurred during stops, video recordings may help lay to rest disagreements that would otherwise remain unresolved.
If, in fact, the police do, on occasion, use offensive language —including racial slurs— or act with more force than necessary, the use of body-worn cameras will inevitably reduce such behavior.
And when it is their word against the police the authorities are more likely to believe the police. Thus, the recordings should also alleviate some of the mistrust that has developed between the police and the black and Hispanic communities, based on the belief that stops and frisks are overwhelmingly and unjustifiably directed at members of these communities. Video recordings will be equally helpful to members of the NYPD who are wrongly accused of inappropriate behavior.
Because body-worn cameras are uniquely suited to addressing the constitutional harms at issue in this case, I am ordering the NYPD to institute a pilot project in which body-worn cameras will be worn for a one-year period by officers on patrol in one precinct per borough — specifically the precinct with the highest number of stops during 2012. The Monitor will establish procedures for the review of stop recordings by supervisors and, as appropriate, more senior managers. The Monitor will also establish procedures for the preservation of stop recordings for use in verifying complaints in a manner that protects the privacy of those stopped. Finally, the Monitor will establish procedures for measuring the effectiveness of body-worn cameras in reducing unconstitutional stops and frisks.
At the end of the year, the Monitor will work with the parties to determine whether the benefits of the cameras outweigh their financial, administrative, and other costs, and whether the program should be terminated or expanded. The City will be responsible for the costs of the pilot project.
It would have been preferable for this remedy to have originated with the NYPD, which has been a leader and innovator in the application of technology to policing, as Compstat illustrates. Nevertheless, there is reason to hope that not only civilians but also officers will benefit from the use of cameras … While the logistical difficulties of using body- worn cameras will be greater in a larger police force, the potential for avoiding constitutional violations will be greater as well.”
(End of Judge Scheindlin’s’s opinion)
Should every police department heed the Judge’s admonishment for not being proactive in utilizing this body-worn video technology and reap the benefits that Rialto, CA has already quantified? The NYPD expert witness named Las Vegas and Phoenix. We will need to communicate with these other localities to determine if they have witnessed similar beneficial results.
When we stop and think about how we act when we know someone is watching us, how would we act when confronted with a serious incident -especially involving the police- if we knew the cameras were recording us?
If nothing less, the judicial branch of the U.S. government will have additional evidence to work from to help rule in such cases.
We applaud Judge Scheindlin and Chief Farrar for their commitment to conducting scientific research on a technology initiative that has broad implications for the field of policing.
The full Rialto Police Department report, coauthored with Dr. Barak Ariel, Cambridge University, can be found at the following link: HERE.
Barak Ariel, PhD, Jerry Lee Fellow in Experimental Criminology and Teaching Associate in the Police Executive Programme, Cambridge University
Chief Tony Farrar, Executive Fellow, Police Foundation & Chief of Police, Rialto Police Department
Read the complete Judge Scheindlin’s’s District Court opinion at: HERE.
Case 1:08-cv-01034-SAS-HBP Document 372 Filed 08/12/13 Page 25 of 39
By: Stan Lewis, SecurityHive staff writer