This week the Los Angeles Police Department announced it would spend millions of dollars to outfit all 7,000 patrol officers with body cameras, choosing a system from Taser.
The hope is that a camera system will help build trust and provide accountability for officers and the people they encounter. A camera system costs a lot of money, but it could potentially lower the number of complaints and use-of-force incidents, saving the city money on lawsuits.
But do cameras modify behavior? "Absolutely," said Sgt. Josh Lindsay of the Rialto Police Department. This city of 100,000 east of Los Angeles has been using the AXON system from Taser for three years.
"The whole experiment wasn't based on figuring out whether the camera was the right camera," said Rialto Police Chief Tony Farrar. "It was really more to evaluate the impact that the cameras would have on law enforcement."
In the first year the cameras were used, complaints dropped 80 percent, and use-of-force incidents fell by more than half, he said.
The Taser system uses a lipstick-sized camera, attached to either a shoulder, collar, hat or glasses. It is wired to a battery pack, and it syncs to an officer's smartphone to transmit a live picture of what the camera is seeing. The smartphone also allows the officer to add data to the video.
The cameras roll constantly for 30 seconds, and each 30 seconds is immediately replaced by the next 30 seconds until the officer actually taps a button to start recording. Usually that's done as he or she gets out of a squad car. Turning on the camera allows the officer to permanently capture the previous 30 seconds and then everything that follows, with audio.