Keith Farrell

05 Nov 2013

Policing the Police 

RIALTO, CA – A revolutionary tactic is improving policing, lowering incidents of violence and increasing transparency. Body cameras attached to on-duty officers in the Los Angeles suburb of Rialto, California, have led to dramatic declines in complaints against officers and decreased the rate of violence. It’s a model so successful that it is being copied by police forces across America and in the United Kingdom.

Rialto’s randomized controlled study has demonstrated the power of the officer-equipped body camera. In just under one year of use complaints against officers have dropped 88%, while the officer’s use of force has fallen 60%.  “When you know you’re being watched you behave a little better. That’s just human nature,” said Rialto Police Chief Tony Farrar. Farrar said officers are more conscious about what they say and how they treat people. After every call, officers can upload the video via a smartphone for instant accountability.

Some officers may balk at the idea, fearing accountability. But the tool can be valuable for protecting officers as well as citizens. With all altercations videotaped citizens are unable to make frivolous claims against officers. The cameras can also a valuable tools for gathering evidence and recording statements.

Video: California Police with Body Camera in Action

With such benefits for police and added protection for citizens, body cameras on officers are a welcomed step towards bettering the relationship between police departments and the public they serve. A Cato Institute study found over 6,000 Americans alleged they were victims of police misconduct during 2010. While all of these claims are not founded, there are likely many cases that are never reported. Rialto has proven that the use of cameras attached to an officer’s body can dramatically decrease those numbers.

The organization Cop Block has taken the initiative into their own hands. Rather than wait for larger departments to provide video records of their officer’s interactions with the public, Cop Block encourages citizens to turn their cameras on police. Whether it be a traffic stop or public altercation, Cop Block had led a movement to make police accountable by putting them on video.  Those who record police activity have faced opposition, but courts have affirmed that Americans do have the right to film public servants performing their duties in public.

Some officers do not want to be videotaped. A look at the alarming number of incidents of police brutality and other misconduct across the country gives a clue as to why. There is absolutely no reason why this technology shouldn’t be used everywhere. Police conduct and behavior should be constantly monitored, for both their own protection and for the protection of those they serve and protect. No reasonable objection can be made by police, unless they object to accountability and transparency.

With luck, this is a trend that will be followed by cities and states nationwide. All government servants ought to be recorded in all their dealings with the public. Some may protest, but for once, we actually get to say to the government: “You have nothing to worry about if you have nothing to hide.”