Early study gives Vegas police body-cam program good marks
LAS VEGAS (AP) — The first Las Vegas police officers to wear body cameras were less likely to use force or face complaints than others, and were slightly more likely to issue citations and make arrests, according to a study funded by the U.S Justice Department.
From September 2014 to October 2015, a comparison of 200 officers with cameras and 200 without found the devices can help improve safety, efficiency and accountability, said James Coldren, one of the leaders of the study, on Monday.
The Las Vegas body camera program, paid for by a $107,000 grant from the National Institute of Justice, was the focus of a joint study by CNA Corporation, the grant recipient, and William Sousa, head of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Center for Crime and Justice Policy.
“Our research supports the notion that body-worn cameras produce positive benefits for police departments and the communities that they serve,” Colden, managing director for justice programs with CNA, told reporters at Las Vegas police headquarters. His nonprofit research group was formerly the Center for Naval Analyses.
The study found officers who volunteered to wear the cameras issued 6.8 percent more citations and made 5.2 percent more arrests than officers without cameras, the Las Vegas Sun reported.
It charted a 37 percent reduction in the number of officers involved in at least one use-of-force incident and a 30 percent decrease in the number of officers with at least one complaint filed against them. For officers not equipped with a camera during the study, use of force increased 4 percent.
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said that over the past two years the department has deployed nearly 2,000 cameras among its 2,749 officers, making them standard equipment for patrol, SWAT, K-9 and traffic officers.
It makes the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, with about 2,400 sworn police officers, one of the largest agencies in the nation using body-worn cameras. The department hopes to win another $95,000 U.S. Justice Department grant to expand the pilot program
Gary Peck, spokesman for the NAACP in Las Vegas, commended the department for equipping officers with cameras, but he expressed concern about limits of the study.
“A sample of 400 officers who volunteer to participate is not necessarily a representative sample that tells us what patrol officers more generally are doing,” he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Some officers initially feared the devices would be intrusive, Lombardo said, but most now embrace the technology because video can prove or disprove accounts by arrestees and witnesses.
Sousa said Tuesday there was no ongoing study following department-wide deployment.
Each body-worn camera costs from about $800 to $1,100 a year, including one-time and recurring costs. A cost-benefit analysis said each camera could result in a net annual savings to the department of about $3,000.
Las Vegas police have begun to routinely show body-camera clips during news conferences about officer-involved shootings and other high-profile events: the Oct. 1 shooting that killed 58 outdoor concert-goers on the Las Vegas Strip; the Aug. 27 detention and release by police of Seattle Seahawks football player Michael Bennett; the May 14 death of Tashii Brown, who was choked to death by an on-duty officer outside Las Vegas Strip resort.
During the last year, body-camera footage has cleared 462 officers of alleged wrongdoing, while 42 incidents required further investigation and discipline, department officials said.
One officer, Richard Scavone, was fired in September 2016 after his body camera showed a violent January 2015 arrest of a woman on suspicion of littering and loitering. The department later agreed to pay the woman $200,000 to settle a federal excessive force civil rights lawsuit.