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December 16, 2017

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Study: Police body-worn cameras reduce use-of-force incidents

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L.E. Baskow

Metro Police Sgt. Peter Ferranti with a body-worn camera on his shoulder during a media event Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014, at the Mohave Training Center.

A yearlong study of police body-worn cameras shows Metro Police officers were less likely to use force while wearing the recording devices.

The study was conducted by UNLV and the Center for Naval Analyses in conjunction with Metro from September 2014 to October 2015. It placed body-worn cameras on 200 Metro patrol officers, while tracking 200 other officers without cameras.

Among those wearing cameras, the study showed a 37 percent reduction in the number of officers involved in at least one use-of-force incident and a 30 percent reduction in the number of officers with at least one complaint filed against them.

The study estimated the cameras could save Metro $4 million a year as the result of fewer complaints and the quicker resolution of complaints.

“Our research supports the notion that body-worn cameras produce positive benefits for police departments and the communities that they serve,” said James Coldren, managing director for justice programs with the Center for Naval Analyses.

“They contribute to safety, produce significant efficiencies for police departments and enhance accountability for officers and civilians alike,” Coldren said.

Officers wearing the cameras issued 6.8 percent more citations and made 5.2 percent more arrests than officers without cameras, the study found.

The demographics of the two study groups were similar in terms of gender, ethnicity, age, length of service and the number of previous complaints filed against them.

“This gives us great confidence in the findings and allows us to assume that what we found regarding the officers in the study applies to the entire patrol division,” Coldren said.

Each body-worn camera costs between $828 and $1,097 a year, which includes one-time and recurring costs. The study estimates each camera will have a net annual savings to the department of $2,909 to $3,178.

“They say a picture is worth a thousand words and in law enforcement, that picture — or video in this case — is often the only thing that can prove or disprove something happening,” Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said.

“Body-worn cameras are now a standard piece of equipment for our patrol officers,” said Lombardo, noting that Metro has deployed 1,950 cameras.

“What is unique is how we are using the information to inform our public about the most controversial incidents we deal with, such as officer-involved shootings,” the sheriff said. “Footage from body-worn cameras is also being used to find training weaknesses and strengthen our tactics.”

Some officers were initially skeptical about the cameras, fearing they would be too intrusive, but most have come to embrace the technology, Lombardo said.

Over the last year, body-camera footage has cleared 462 officers of alleged wrongdoing. There were 42 incidents that required further investigation, some of which required discipline, and one officer was terminated as the result of video evidence.

“They quickly found out they became their best eyewitness,” Lombardo said. “The fear shouldn’t be what happens if you release the footage; it should be what will happen if you don’t.”

Metro has routinely released body-camera footage from high-profile and controversial incidents, including officers responding to the Oct. 1 mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip.

“Some of the general public has never had any insight on law enforcement, other than being arrested or dealing with them in a negative way,” Lombardo said. “Body-worn cameras have brought out the positive in law enforcement and the professionalism of this department.”

“The more important piece for me is the accountability associated with body-worn cameras, bringing transparency to the department and public trust,” he said. “I think we have achieved that with the project, and we will continue into the future.”