One California city tested the use of cameras by their officers last year and the results were just as one would expect. The use of force by officers dropped by over two thirds overall, and those not made to wear cameras were twice as likely to use force than those equipped with the recording devices! The conclusion of the study: “The majority of the time police use force is unnecessary. In other words, the majority of the time these officers used force they were simply committing acts of violence which they don’t feel comfortable committing if it’s captured on film.”
The Rialto police chief introduced the wearable cameras to his officers and he was met with opposition. Many officers were not happy with being watched. Despite their negative response, the chief randomly selected officers to wear the cameras, having one-half of the staff using a camera each shift. The study ran from February 2012 until July 2013. The cameras had to be manually turned on by the officers and they were required to do so as they got out of their patrol car to approach a citizen. The camera automatically saved about 30 seconds of prior to the officer’s activation, with the hopes of capturing the initial reason for the contact.
California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers have cameras inside their patrol vehicles. They are called MVARS, the Mobile Video Audio Recording System. They are mounted on the rear view mirror, facing out the front of the windshield. The officers also have microphones attached to their shirts to record the audio of their interactions.
In my experience, the officers often do not want their interactions recorded. When the recordings are subpoenaed, the part of the incident needed is not in the evidence. Law enforcement provides excuses such as the batteries were not charged or for some reason the equipment was not working at the time of the incident. In addition, when an officer has a driver get out of their car, they often bring the suspect to an area where the camera does not pick up what is going on.
It should be mandatory police policy that all law enforcement officers, including CHP, San Diego Sheriffs, and San Diego Police, be required to properly maintain audio and video recording devices, that they must be activated for each and every contact they have with citizens, and, the audio and video evidence must be maintained and provided to the defense when subpoenaed. If they are forced to do this, not only would the rate of complaints about officers using unnecessary force go down, but law abiding citizens would not find themselves arrested for crimes they did not commit. Officers have roughed up citizens, but then arrested them and charged them with resisting arrest. Having cameras would protect the citizens from this tactic. And, if properly used, the recording can also corroborate the police report. Unfortunately, prosecutors and judges always believe the cop even though they have motivation to lie to keep their job.