ASU Study of Police Body Cameras

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An Arizona State University study will measure the response to officer-worn video cameras in Tempe and Spokane, Washington. The one-year research project will be conducted by the ASU Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety. The study’s principal investigator, Michael White, associate director of the center and a professor of criminology and criminal justice, will talk about the effort.

Ted Simons: The ASU Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety is set to conduct a study that measures the response to officer-worn video cameras. Joining us now is the study's principal investigator, Michael White, associate director of the center and a professor of criminology and criminal justice. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon."

Michael White: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Talk to me about the study. What exactly is going to be looked at here?

Michael White: You know Ted obviously, there's a lot of interest in this technology. There was interest before Ferguson, Missouri. But certainly since that incident and then, of course, what happened last week, the focus on this technology has just exploded. The day after the riots in Baltimore, President Obama gave a speech and he talked specifically about body-worn cameras, and then just on Friday they announced a funding program where just this year alone they're going to make $20 million available. So that's the background for this study and the concern is that you have literally thousands of police departments across the U.S. who are moving in this direction and there's virtually no research to look to, to get some ideas about how to plan this if you're a chief of police, how to deploy it and what to expect when officers start wearing the cameras. That's the background. The study that I'm conducting involves two police departments, Tempe, Arizona and Spokane, Washington. Both are very rigorous research designs, we're doing randomized control trials and the funder is the Arnold foundation and we will conduct research over the next two years that will begin to answer some of these critical questions about planning about deployment and impact and consequences.

Ted Simons: So with that in mind, what exactly will be measured in this study?

Michael White: Certainly one of the things we want to do is we want to capture the planning and implementation process. So if I'm the chief of police in some small town in Louisiana, I have somewhere to go to look to see what the elements are of a good planning and implementation process. In terms of the outcomes, we have a range of different outcomes that we're looking at. We're certainly interested in officer perceptions. What do officers think about this technology? Do they think it's going to make their jobs easier, more difficult? We're going to be surveying officers over really several different occasions to see if what their attitudes are originally.

Ted Simons: What about citizens? What about suspects? What about victims?

Michael White: Exactly. So the second piece is we will be contacting individuals who have interactions with police officers who are wearing cameras or not, depending on which group of officers we look at. And we're going to be asking citizens what they thought of the encounter. Did they realize they were being recorded and if they did, what did they think about that? Did they feel good about the fact that the encounter was recorded or did it aggravate them? If so, why? We're interested in the perceptions of both of the individuals that are involved in a police-citizen encounter. And one of the real questions about this technology is whether or not it affects behavior. There was one study that was done in California. And after the officers in that department started wearing body-worn cameras, citizen complaints dropped by nearly 90%, use of force dropped by 60% and there's a belief that when officers start wearing cameras, it has this civilizing effect, it changes behavior for the better. The belligerent and rude citizen becomes much more compliant and respectful and you see the same types of behaviors among the police officers. We want to look at that and see if we can replicate those findings from that study.

Ted Simons: Does the citizen know that there are cameras? Sometimes, you can get cameras so small no one even knows they're there.

Michael White: Right. So the cameras vary in size. And certainly, the departments also vary a little bit in terms of whether they let citizens know. So, for example, in Spokane, Washington, where I'm conducting the study, they are required to notify the citizen that the recording is occurring. In Arizona, there's no legal requirement for notification, however, if a citizen says are you recording me? The officer has to acknowledge that's happening. There's not a requirement.

Ted Simons: Out of curiosity, why Tempe and Spokane? What's going on there?

Michael White: There's been a lot of interest in body-worn cameras here in this area and Phoenix has had a study, Mesa, as well. I had started a conversation with the leadership at the Tempe police department before I was contacted for this funding opportunity. That was why I selected Tempe, and then Spokane, similar reasons, the chief was very interested in the technology there. We met at a conference and he was very interested in partnering to conduct some research.

Ted Simons: I would imagine police chiefs and departments, transparency is obviously a major goal on all sides, I would imagine. But for the police departments, just how you work around this, how this is included in your daily patrolling activities, that's got to be a major factor.

Michael White: It is, and I think you're right. One of the reason police chiefs are embracing this technology, it represents an opportunity for the chief of police to extend an olive branch to the community, to the minority community in particular and to say we've got nothing to hide, we're embracing this technology, we will be transparent. And, you know, buying cameras and putting them on officers is the easy part. What happens afterwards is much more difficult and much more complex and that's why there's a need for research to kind of document all the issues that need to be thought about up front as you're making the decision to deploy the technology.

Ted Simons: Will these be live streaming? The things that record somewhere? How does that work?

Michael White: Generally, once you hit the record button and most departments have a policy where they only record law enforcement contacts. So they are not running constantly during a shift whenever an officer responds to a call for service or maybe proactively stops a citizen, that's when they would activate the camera. And then it records until you turn the camera off. And then at the end of the shift the officer then can download the video from the device onto a storage system.

Ted Simons: So it doesn't go back to a central headquarters, it's got to be taken back after the recording? This is a one year study, correct? Will you be able to look at progress throughout the year?

Michael White: So yeah, in Spokane, they started wearing cameras actually on Saturday. So just because of where the departments were when I began the study, Spokane is a few months ahead of schedule. Tempe is still in the process of reviewing the bids that were, you know, selected in terms of the rfp. They're trying to select their vendor and it looks like August or so they'll have their officers beginning to wear the cameras.

Ted Simons: Very good, good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Michael White: Thank you.

Michael White:Associate Director and Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety at Arizona State University;

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