Commissioner Evans Releases Preliminary Findings of the Body Worn Camera Pilot Program

Northeastern University researchers Dr. Anthony Braga and Dr. Jack McDevitt have provided a preliminary analysis of the Boston Police Department's (Department) Body Worn Camera (BWC) Pilot Program to Commissioner William Evans. Today, Wednesday, January 10, 2018, Commissioner Evans is pleased to release those preliminary findings and looks forward to the full analysis due in June 2018. 

The BWC Pilot Program study is a randomized controlled trial of the one year Body Worn Camera Pilot Program. The program consisted of 100 body worn cameras on patrol officers (BWC officers) in 5 police districts and plainclothes officers in the Youth Violence Strike Force. The selected officers worked the day and first half shifts and were actively providing police services to Boston residents. A total of 281 officers were assigned to wear cameras or partook in the study as part of the control groups. The BWC officers and control group officers were equivalent in terms of officer sex, race, age, years on the job, shift, assignment, prior complaints, and prior Use of Force reports.

This preliminary report released today focuses only on the impact of the BWC Pilot Program as it relates to two variables: (1) citizen complaints and (2) use of force reporting throughout the duration of the program. Citizen complaints are complaints received by the Internal Affairs Division by members of the public concerning the conduct and behavior of an officer. These complaints can include, but are not limited to, excessive force, offensive language, disrespectful treatment, etc. Use of Force reports are required by Department Rule. All officers must immediately report to a superior officer anytime an officer strikes someone with any object or an incapacitating agent is used on a subject, or when a visible injury occurs in the presence of an officer or officers. Once the use of force is reported, a supervisor must respond to the scene and investigate to ensure compliance with Department Rules.  All officer self-reported use of force investigations are then reviewed by Internal Affairs. Use of Force reports are self-reported officer reports, not complaints of excessive force. 

 FINDINGS:

Northeastern University’s preliminary findings of the randomized controlled trial suggest that the placement of body worn cameras on Boston Police officers may generate small benefits to the civility of police-citizen civilian encounters. The preliminary analysis determined that placement of BWCs on officers seemed to reduce the incidence of citizen complaints. The impact was twelve (12) fewer complaints filed against officers equipped with BWCs over the one-year intervention period which amounts to one less complaint per month compared to control group officers.

Overall, the number of citizen complaints filed against Boston police officers has steadily declined over the past four years with an overall decline of 41%. Additionally, specific to excessive force complaints, there has been a decrease of complaints against officers by 54% since 2013 and as much as a 74% decrease since 2011. 

The preliminary analysis determined placement of BWCs on officers did not significantly reduce the number of submitted Use of Force reports for BWC officers when compared to control officers. The impact was the difference of just seven (7) less reports for the BWC officers compared to the control group. While the analysis showed a reduction, it did not determine the reduction in reporting was directly due to officers wearing BWCs. Since 2013, Use of Force reports have seen a 54% decrease while arrests too have dropped 32% for the same period. 

Next Steps:

The BWC evaluation will continue through May of 2018, and a final evaluation report is expected in June 2018. The Northeastern team will continue with the collection of data, and will consider the following measures:

  1. police interactions
  2. lawfulness of policing (including racial disparities between BWC wearers and control officers, and thoroughness of documented stop justification between BWC wearers and control officers)
  3. police productivity (if cameras impact calls for service, incident reports, FIOs, etc.)
  4. community feedback
  5. police officer feedback

This data will be analyzed across all fields, and lead to practice and policy recommendations, including a cost-benefit analysis. The preliminary results released today are not final and should be interpreted with caution. The evaluation team’s review of this additional data will be used to pursue supplemental analyses to ensure that these findings are sound.

Message from the Police Commissioner:

"I would like to thank Northeastern University for the first of two analyses on the Body Worn Camera Pilot Program. I would also like to thank the BWC officers that utilized this pilot program as an opportunity to showcase the excellent work they have been doing, even if the results may be minimal. 

Nationwide, the impact on body cameras has been varied. Waiting for the results of the full analysis is prudent and necessary to really understanding the context and setting in which body cameras may have the most impact. It is likely that in the additional analysis the significance of the current findings may become more impactful, but given the Boston Police Department’s historically low numbers, expectations for outcomes should be much more modest."

Click Here for Dr Braga and Dr McDevitt's Preliminary Analysis Study