The answer for Miami Gardens’ troubled police police department lies in the San Bernardino foothills, not far from Los Angeles. It’s all on video.
Rialto, with a population not far off Miami Garden’s 106,000, ran an 18-month experiment, starting in February, 2012, equipping half its street cops with body cams -- four-ounce Bluetooth video cameras, unobtrusive, small enough to be attached to shirt collars, caps and, for the very cool, specially manufactured Oakley sunglasses. The cameras, with 12-hour batteries, shoot all interactions with the public, sending high-def color footage to a central database back at police headquarters.
The Institute of Criminology, out of the University of Cambridge, ran the experiment, intent on comparing the job performance of officers equipped cams with the "control group," without the video cameras. The Institute study measured "what happens when the level of certainty of apprehension for professional misconduct was set at 100 percent."
The results were stunning.
In the first year, after cameras were introduced in Rialto, public complaints against police officers fell 88 percent. Officers’ use of force dropped by 60 percent. "Shifts without cameras experienced twice as many incidents of use of force as shifts with cameras."
The authors of the study theorized that camera awareness not only improved police performance but "members of the public with whom the officers communicated were also aware of being videotaped and therefore were likely to be cognizant that they ought to act cooperatively."
The Miami Gardens cops, meanwhile, were unwitting participants in video study of a different kind, after a local convenience store owner, frustrated by what he perceived as mindless harassment of his customers and employees, installed 15 small cams, inside and out. The video feeds seemed to support the store owner’s complaints, including footage of one employee grabbed by police as he was stocking shelves, busted, incomprehensibly, for trespassing. It was just one of the fellow’s 62 trespassing arrests.
The videos also gave credance to community complaints about a stop-and-frisk policy gone wild. The NAACP demanded that the Justice Department intervene. Last week, police chief Matthew Boyd resigned. And 11 Miami Gardens residents filed a federal lawsuit against the city, citing "deliberate, wanton, malicious, reckless, and oppressive" police behavior.
Cop cams can fix this. Nothing like that "100 percent level of certainty" that any misconduct would be recorded. And, as they discovered in Rialto, the cameras protect good police officers from groundless complaints and out-of-text video clips shot on some passerby’s iPhone. Rialto police officials recounted how some locals who came to the station to lodge complaints slouched away once shown the uncut video of their actual conduct.
Taser International, which manufactures the police body cams, dubbed them, "body armor for the courtroom."
The Rialto cameras cost about $100,000, a bargain if measured against the millions cities pay out to settle misconduct and brutality lawsuits. Miami Gardens PD and other South Florida police departments surely could profit from some video cam-induced "self-awareness and ultimately socially-desirable behavior."