Metro Police to Test Body-Worn Cameras
A collaborative effort between UNLV, and the National Institute of Justice along with the CNA Corporation has resulted in a yearlong study analyzing the effects of officers wearing body-worn cameras.
Public outcry in the wake of the officer-involved shooting, and subsequent death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, lead President Barack Obama to request federal funding in order to provide police departments across the nation with 50,000 body cameras.
Across the country, UNLV was already quietly conducting its own year-long study into the effectiveness of body cameras in the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. The study began in March 2014.
“In a lot of respects we were ahead of much the rest of the country,” said William Sousa, the director of the Center for Crime and Justice Policy as well as the local project coordinator of the study. “Las Vegas has been considering body-worn cameras now for a couple of years and they were pilot testing for a while.”
While there have been similar research projects on the effectiveness of body-worn cameras, they studied much fewer officers. With about 2,400 police officers, Metro is one of the largest police departments in the nation using body-worn cameras.
“Las Vegas is really the first big city police department to consider cameras,” Sousa said.
The study was financed by the National Institute of Justice.
The cameras, made by Taser International, cost about $600 each and data storage comes out to around $90 per officer per month. “It costs more than people anticipated,” said James R. Coldren Jr., Ph.D., who is serving as managing director for Justice Programs in CNA and principal investigator of the project.
He believes that although the costs are high it’s likely there will be cost reductions in lawsuits and out-of-court settlements.
The Center for Naval Analyses, which is a Virginia-based research firm, submitted an application to the NIJ to conduct the study and were awarded a nearly $550,000 grant. UNLV’s Professor Sousa was then invited to be a part of the study project as the onsite coordinator.
“The study started initially over some internal concerns about police brutality towards people of color,” Coldren said.
In a study by CNA it was found that a greater proportion of officer-initiated interactions resulting in OISs involving unarmed subjects, 70 percent were black. Clark County police have been involved in 378 OISs since 1990, with 142 of those being fatal.
“For any department use of force is obviously a very important topic and getting it right is a very important one. This is a good place to take a look at those issues,” Sousa said. “Las Vegas is a very interesting laboratory to look at.”
Sousa said what makes Las Vegas an interesting place for the study is its various types of communities. Sousa is interested in studying how cameras will impact the interactions between locals and the police, as well as the interactions between tourists and the police.
Sousa added that Metro had previously worked with CNA a few years earlier when the agency had its use of force policies examined by the Department of Justice. The CNA assisted Las Vegas police in conducting extensive research needed to reshape the department’s policies.
“Some recommendations that came out of that [study] and one of the recommendations was to consider more transparency,” Sousa said. “That is how the cameras came about.”
But while there are anticipated benefits, there are also challenges. Coldren said they have to consider infrastructure issues and policy related issues that have to be worked out by Metro.
Sousa said that until those issues are properly lined up it becomes difficult to implement an experimental design within a larger context. A new set of challenges includes implementing the experimental design for finding officers who are willing to be part of the study.
The study calls for 200 randomly assigned officers to wear the cameras and another 200 to be the control group, which will produce results anywhere from the number of citations issued to the number of incidents of police use of force.
Coldren is looking for an opportunity to broaden the research now that there is a lot more public interest and a lot more scrutiny over police behavior.
“A lot of people are waiting anxiously for the results of this study,” Coldren said.
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