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Denver police have been involved in body-camera study since June

Denver police on 16th Street Mall
Denver police on 16th Street Mall

Prior to a press conference given today by Denver Police Chief Robert White, the Denver Post reported that some local police have been testing the use of body cameras. As part of an ongoing study investigating the role that third-party monitoring plays in affecting officer accountability and decreasing citizens’ claims of excessive force and a lack of transparency in general, on-duty officers patrolling the downtown Denver area have been wearing the cameras since June.

The study, which will reportedly run for a period of six months, is being managed by Taser International, manufacturer of law-enforcement technology products and one of the two leading purveyors of body cameras, and the University of Cambridge. Taser donated 125 cameras to be used in the test.

Assuming the cameras eventually become standard for Denver police officers, Colorado will be home to three agencies that utilize such observational tools. Police in the cities of Fort Collins and Lone Tree also use body cameras.

In the case of Lone Tree, the cameras have been in use for about a year, and by most accounts have been effective in helping police do their job. Lone Tree Police Commander David Brown states that body cameras both help officers “keep their professionalism” and practically eliminate inconsistency between detainee or witness accounts and an officer’s reporting of the same incident.

There are numbers to back up the efficacy of third-party monitoring. The Wall Street Journal reported a 60 percent drop in use of force and an 88 percent drop in citizen complaints against police in the first year after law enforcement in Rialto, California began using body cameras. There are, however, factors slowing widespread implementation of of this technology, factors that include budgetary constraints and concerns over the long-term costs and the integrity of systems used to store information recorded by the cameras.

With respect to Denver, third-party monitoring looks to be inevitable, no matter how the study plays out. In the past decade, over 75 percent of the $16.7 million issued by the city of Denver for the settlement of legal claims pertained to cases involving either the police or sheriff departments. Nearly $9.7 million of the total amount was paid to settle citizens’ claims of excessive force or civil rights violations. This accounting was reported prior to the approval of a $3.25 million settlement of a federal case involving sheriff’s deputies’ complicity in the torture of an inmate at the Denver jail. City council finalized this settlement on August 4.

During his Press conference, Chief White stated that, in response to the favorable results seen during the first couple months of the study, Denver will look to expand the program to at least 800 officers by the end of the year. The anticipated cost of the equipment necessary to the expansion is $1.5 million.

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