The images in video recordings don’t lie. That’s the idea behind the Columbus Police Department’s use of body-worn cameras, to record interactions between police officers and the public during an arrest or investigation, and have that documentation on hand should it be needed to verify the accounts of an event.
Facts don’t lie, either. Data shows that the department’s use of the body-worn cameras is having a positive effect.
The number of use-of-force incidents deemed necessary by officers has dropped, as well as the number of resident complaints against officers.
The Columbus Police Department began testing body-worn cameras in July 2014. The Columbus City Council on March 3, 2015, approved $66,000 for 65 body cameras and a video storage system. That spring the department began using the cameras with a limited rollout for some officers. By December, all patrol officers on all three shifts were using the cameras.
Use of the cameras create another type of accountability for officers’ actions, but they also have an important deterrent effect. When patrol officers interact with residents, the attitudes of residents generally improve when they realize they are being recorded.
With residents displaying better attitudes and being more compliant, the number of possible instances for use of force by officers — when an officer uses a firearm, taser or baton to make an arrest — has declined. Use of force incidents have dropped from 52 in 2013 to 43 in 2014 and 40 in 2015.
With the body-worn cameras recording the interactions, they have been useful in refuting or confirming citizen complaints regarding officers’ behavior and conduct, following procedure, use of force and arrests.
Given that the use-of-force incidents have been declining, and the recordings can refute frivolous allegations, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the number of citizen complaints declined from 22 in 2013 to nine in both 2014 and 2015, and none have been filed so far this year.
While a full year of use and data collected this year will give a more detailed picture of the impact of the police department’s use of body cameras, the early indication is that they are having the expected effect.
The investment in body cameras continues to be a good one, and when the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department’s plan for deputies to use body cameras eventually takes effect, interactions between law enforcement and residents should benefit even more people.