As hundreds of police in St. Paul and Minneapolis get ready to make body cameras a conspicuous part of their gear, one problem is that studies of the cameras’ effectiveness are incomplete, and consistent results have been hard to find, reports the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Most body camera studies focus on tracking two things: the number of complaints against officers, and whether officers used force during incidents when cameras were on. But officers weren’t consistent about when they recorded. New Orleans police found last year that in 146 incidents involving force, officers were recording in only 49. Denver ran into similar problems.
The November 2014 edition of the Journal of Quantitative Criminology included a study of police in Rialto, Ca., one of the first departments to use body cameras and consistently track them. The randomized controlled trial — covering 1,000 officer shifts over 12 months, in which some officers wore cameras and a control group did not — showed positive (and highly touted) results for body cameras. Of the 25 incidents involving “use of force” covered in the study, only eight occurred with officers wearing cameras. St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith cited the Rialto data to the city council. A second study he mentioned, in the San Diego Police Department, has been updated with less rosy results. Total statistics for the year showed an increase in “use of force” of 10 percent. Citizen complaints were found to have declined 23 percent but assaults against officers increased 36 percent.