What’s a low-cost way to improve police accountability in Illinois while saving taxpayer dollars?
Some say body cameras for police officers. After the events in Ferguson, MO, several editorials have encouraged Illinois police officers to wear body cameras as a way to deter misconduct, and some departments have already signed on to the idea.
But considering how much taxpayers currently put out to litigate and settle police-misconduct cases, we should also support it as an effective cost-saving measure.
Chicago, for instance, has paid more than half a billion dollars in police settlements, legal fees and associated costs within the last decade, according to a study released by the Better Government Association earlier this year. It’s clear enough that many of the incidents might have been avoided if there was reliable video footage of the incidents in question. At the very least, an objective record of the event would be available.
Here are some examples of payouts from the city of Chicago for police misconduct:
- $5.3 million for a wrongful death lawsuit settlement to the family of Cornelius Wares, a paraplegic man, who was fatally shot by police in 2003
- $3 million to the family of Michael Pleasance in 2011, who was killed by a police officer at a CTA station while unarmed
- $4.1 million to the family of Flint Farmer, who died in 2011 after being shot in the back three times by an officer who thought he had a gun (he turned out to be holding a cell phone)
The advantage of police body cameras to the public is obvious. If worn consistently, they would protect anyone who’s pulled over, arrested or questioned from police abuse. One frequently cited study conducted in Rialto, Calif., showed a 60 percent reduction in the use of force and an 88 percent reduction in complaints against the police in a single year after officers started wearing body cameras.
And cameras would benefit the police just as much as the public. Potential offenders, aware that their words and actions are being captured by the cameras as well, are incentivized to avoid any rash decisions. Plus, having a recorded account of their interactions with suspects would help make police reports more accurate.
Body cameras are a simple step toward saving taxpayer dollars and preventing tragedies on all sides.