There's still very little research into the impacts of these cameras on policing and their ripple effects on the criminal justice system, said Justin Ready, assistant professor at Arizona State's department of criminology and criminal justice. But more studies are underway, including two that Ready is involved in.
The police department in Rialto, Calif., concluded a yearlong University of Cambridge study last year that found an 89 percent drop in complaints against officers during the camera trial. The chief has since mandated its deployment to its roughly 90 sworn officers.
Rialto police Sgt. Richard Royce said he was exonerated by the footage during the study.
"I'd rather have my version of that incident captured on high-definition video in its entirety from my point of view, then to look at somebody's grainy cellphone camera footage captured a 100 feet away that gets cropped, edited, changed or manipulated," Royce said.
Greenwood of the ACLU said he's provided input in drawing up the Justice Department guidelines. He said the proposed policy is pretty good, but gives officers more discretion than is wise.
"It's a far better policy decision to mandate the encounter be recorded and deal with the unwanted video," Greenwood said. Because if a situation goes bad quickly and there's no footage, the officer is in trouble, Greenwood said.
Captured video could protect the department — and ultimately the taxpayer— from a false claim and expensive litigation or result in disciplining a problem officer.
One case, also in Oakland, is being used to educate officers in California about the technology. An officer chasing a suspect said he saw the suspect with a gun in his hand before fatally shooting him three times in ¾ of a second. A gun was later found in the grass.
It cost the city $10,000 to have roughly 15 seconds of video analyzed by an expert, and because of the angle of where the camera was placed — on the officer's chest — no gun was seen in the suspect's hand on film, said Rains, an attorney whose firm represented the officer.
Sgt. Barry Donelan, the police union chief in Oakland, said the department initially moved to terminate the officer for an excessive response, but he was ultimately exonerated because the video analysis backed up the officer's account.
Donelan said the danger with such footage is it taps into a human tendency to over rely on video at the expense of other accounts of an event, and can be especially problematic in high-adrenaline situations.
When that happens, "it's just about the camera," Donelan said. "It's the ultimate Monday morning quarterbacking tool."
Tami Abdollah can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/latams
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