[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Friday released a report [PDF] detailing recommendations and warnings regarding the use of body-worn cameras by police. The report, authored by the DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services [official website] office, consisted of a survey of 254 law enforcement agencies and how they implement the technology into everyday encounters with the public. One significant conclusion that the report reached was that there is a correlation between the use of body-worn cameras and the reduction of excessive use of force complaints. The report states:
The use of body-worn video by frontline officers has real potential to reduce complaints of incivility and use of force by officers. The footage can also exonerate officers from vexatious and malicious complaints. In addition, I feel there are benefits to the criminal justice system in terms of more guilty pleas, reduced costs at court, and a reduction in the number of civil cases brought against the police service for unlawful arrest/excessive force. We already have good examples of bodyworn video footage exonerating officers from malicious complaints.
Although reporting positive results with the implementation of body-worn cameras, the DOJ warned that police departments should think carefully before committing, because it will be difficult to change public expectation of the availability of video records once such equipment has become a practice for the area.
The topic of body-worn cameras has seen a recent surge due to the shooting of teenager Michael Brown [USA Today report] last month. Michael Brown was an African-American teenager who was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9th after receiving the description of a man who robbed a local convenience store. Many Ferguson residents believe the killing was racially motivated, akin to the 2012 shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin [JURIST news archive] in Florida, and have demonstrated in protest. In late August five people brought a law suit [JURIST report] against the city of Ferguson, Missouri and several officials for the use of unnecessary and unwarranted force by St. Louis County Police and Ferguson Police during the protests. A week prior Missouri Governor Jay Nixon issued an executive order [JURIST report] authorizing the Missouri National Guard to provide assistance in the city of Ferguson following a period of civil unrest that prompted the governor to declare a state of emergency [JURIST report] the Saturday before.