The U.S. Justice Department is making a big investment in police body cameras, providing grants that it says will help city police departments become more transparent and accountable to the public.
Based on the experiences of departments that have already deployed them, cities receiving the new cameras are likely to find their officers will use force less often.
Grants help cities get started
In all, the Justice Department is awarding $23 million worth of grants to help cities adopt the body cameras. Grants are going to 73 police departments -- local agencies and tribal departments -- in 32 states.
The grants will help the agencies buy the cameras and train officers to use them. To receive a grant, the cities or other local governments had to come up with half the cost of the body camera program themselves. They also had to agree to develop a strong implementation plan and robust training policy. Grant recipients are also on their own for storing the video.
The latter is no minor consideration. Council Lead Partner Microsoft found that body cameras can generate tremendous amounts of data, which can be a burden for agencies that aren’t prepared to store it. It found some larger cities are having to store 5 terabytes of data each month, and that the data needs can rapidly double as the body camera programs expand.
Focus on research
In addition to getting some cities started with body cameras, the Justice Department grants also include funds to study the impact of the cameras in a select group of large cities.
Miami, Milwaukee and Phoenix will each be paired with a research institution to study how the use of body cameras in those cities impacts citizen complaints, internal investigations, privacy and community relationships. Researchers will also be looking at whether the cameras are cost effective.
A Microsoft report examined cities where body camera programs are already well-established and found that officers who wear them are significantly less likely to use force than officers who do not. In the cities studied, use of force dropped by between half and three-quarters, and the number of citizen complaints against officers dropped by as much as 90%.