Whether you agree with the New York judge’s decision to abolish “stop and frisk” practices by the New York City police department, some of the specific requirements of the ruling are pretty interesting. One that hasn’t received much attention yet is a requirement that some officers wear a body camera to record interactions with citizens. The mandate is only for a pilot project at this point, but both politicians and police unions there oppose it.

Actual police encounter captured by a police body camera

Mayor Bloomberg himself has spoken out against the cameras. His arguments are pretty vague, though, if not illogical, given that his administration fully supports widespread use of public surveillance cameras in the city.

Police union officials had an only slightly more rational argument for not wearing the devices:

“Our members are already weighed down with equipment like escape hoods, Mace, flashlights, memo books, ASPs, radio, handcuffs and the like,’’ he said. “Additional equipment becomes an encumbrance and a safety issue for those carrying it. Given that the root cause of this stop-and-frisk problem is a significant shortage of police officers in local precincts, it seems to us that the monies spent on a body-cam pilot program would be better spent on hiring more police officers and providing them with extensive field training.”

But cities around the U.S. have either piloted the cameras or have taken the plunge and made them a mandatory piece of equipment for officers, with very positive results.

After a brief pilot project, the Chief of Police in Cleveland, Ohio chose to purchase more body cameras for his officers instead of dash cams for squad cars.  The reason? The chief said he believed the cameras would be better for both the officers and the public.

According to the Chief of the Greensboro, North Carolina police department:

“[The use of body cameras] really helps to strengthen the overall police performance side, deal with frivolous or false allegations of misconduct and deal with real misconduct, and help us deal with all of that much more quickly, much more substantively to improve the overall delivery of police service,”

Police officers in Rialto, California were actually the subject of an academic study examining the effects of wearing a body camera during citizen encounters. The results?

“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.”

Given the experiences of other departments, and the research on body cameras, the NYPD’s resistance appears to be little more than a political reaction to the ruling against them, rather than a well-considered policy position.

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