Study proves 'cop cameras' cut citizen complaints

Study by TASER International and Calif. PD shows video cameras worn by police officers have a deterrent effect on citizens initiating false and frivolous allegations of police misconduct

A police department implements a new technology solution and citizen complaints plummet by 87.5 percent in the span of just one year.

In the same time period, the PD also reduces use-of-force incidents by 59 percent.

You probably think that’s the opening couple of lines to a belated April Fool’s joke, but it’s not.

Data Supports Anecdotal Evidence
According to a 12-month study conducted by Rialto (Calif.) Police and TASER International, when the agency began experimenting with the TASER AXON Flex body-worn video camera system used in conjunction with they saw a tremendous decline in UOF incidents and complaints against officers.

Rialto Police Chief Tony Farrar, who led the study as part of his graduate degree thesis at Cambridge University, said that his agency’s use of body-worn video has “had a dramatic impact on reducing both the controversy associated with complaints and the risk of injuries associated with use-of-force incidents.”

I want to leave the UOF stuff aside for the purposes of today’s discussion, and focus strictly on the massive reduction in citizen complaints.

The Rialto PD study, which will remain ongoing for several more months, has already yielded hard data which backs up something I’ve been saying for years: video recorded from the police officer’s perspective helps to ensure that officers are not falsely accused of misconduct.

Departments take citizen complaints very seriously, and where wrongdoing by an officer is discovered it is dealt with sternly and swiftly. But the troublesome fact is that in communities across the country, tremendous municipal resources — money, time, and energy — are wasted by false and frivolous complaints lodged against officers.

Captain Joe Fiumara of Lake Havasu (Ariz.) Police Department, told me a few months ago that his department’s deployment of AXON Flex and has significantly reduced costs associated with baseless accusations against his officers.

In one instance, a man brandishing a shotgun claimed to not have been armed when Lake Havasu cops drew their weapons and commanded him to drop his gun.

The man threatened to lodge a complaint, but when the officers informed him that the entire event was recorded on video with AXON, he opted against it.

In another case, a resident claimed Lake Havasu officers had treated her in an abusive manner, but AXON video revealed the officers courteously and properly handling the call, despite the cursing and rants of the very highly-intoxicated complaining resident.

The officers were exonerated without need for further investigation.

I’ve heard too many stories of agencies where citizen complaints are settled in a “pay to make it go away” policy, regardless of whether or not there is any officer wrongdoing.

Adopting such a ‘strategy’ is the same thing as submitting to death by a thousand paper cuts.

Emboldened by a department’s history of acquiescence, rampant litigiousness takes root, and an avoidable problem quickly snowballs out of control. 

Whether your agency is looking to protect against that once-in-a-lifetime, national-news-headlines, multi-million-dollar misconduct lawsuit or a parade of “nickel and dime” complaints, probably the best one-two punch available to you right now is the body-worn camera system used in conjunction with a truly robust digital evidence management solution.

About the author

Doug Wyllie is Editor in Chief of PoliceOne, responsible for setting the editorial direction of the website and managing the planned editorial features by our roster of expert writers. An award-winning columnist — he is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column — Doug has authored more than 900 feature articles and tactical tips on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA). Doug is active in his support for the law enforcement community, contributing his time and talents toward police-related charitable events as well as participating in force-on-force training, search-and-rescue training, and other scenario-based training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.

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