Are there any practical improvements that can be made to American policing?

The Ferguson shooting has ignited a lot of criticism of our police officers. I’d like to discuss if there are any practical improvements that can be made.

A few comments to get us started.

  1. Internal Affairs has steadily improved policing in the past 70 years. A lot of the graft and payoffs associated with the cop on the beat are pretty much eliminated these days. Most cops don’t walk a beat anymore and don’t have that type of contact with shopkeepers. Same thing with unnecessary force. IA has broad powers to investigate any complaints of graft or excessive force. There may be room for improvement. I don’t know.

  2. Cops absolutely must believe that their bosses have their backs. This is just basic common sense. If a cop has to use deadly force a fair investigation is warranted. But, automatically assigning a special prosecutor and putting the cop on trial for murder isn’t. There has to be some latitude in judging what the cop did. The cop is the person risking their life and making the split second decisions. Only the most egregious and clear violations of police procedure should be prosecuted. Terminations are certainly an option for cops that routinely rough up suspects. There’s no excuse for excessive force unless their live is in jeopardy. Once again, IA is already in place to investigate any complaints or allegations.

Otherwise it’s going to be almost impossible to find people willing to serve as police. Nobody is going to do this job if a murder trial is automatic after the use of deadly force.

What can be done to improve policing? Are more powers needed for IA? Maybe an independent review? What will help?

I know Brown’s lawyers called for a special prosecutor to investigate police shootings in their press conference. I can’t see that working. It would destroy police moral. No one will do this job with that kind of legal sword over their head.

First – body cameras and audio recording for every policeman. Strict rules about how they’re used.

Body cameras. They’re expensive, but they limit questions about what happened because they record everything all the time.

I believe the statistic (as posted in other threads) is that police brutality complaints drop 80% when these cameras are used. Whether you think that’s because cops stop beating people or perps quit making false accusations, it’s hard to be upset with the results.

Yes, there would be a cost in buying the cameras and with storage, but I think it’s ultimately worth it.

Cameras would be an honest cop’s best friend. Exonerate him of false accusations.
Also, people in general - cops, crooks, gangsters - tend to behave much better when they realize they’re being recorded on video for the courtroom. (In theory.)

Body cameras make a lot of sense. Even for basic interactions. Cops should show respect when dealing with the public. For example, Darren Johnson testified the cop said, “get the F*** onto the sidewalk”. There’s no need for that. The cop can issue commands with authority and not curse. That’s all part of being professional.

Hopefully Body Cameras will become standard. So any allegations can be reviewed. Of course it works both ways. Anything the suspect does will be recorded too and can be used in court.

Body cams are a great idea but not a magic bullet. Most cops I know want them, provided there is intelligent policy in place. They don’t want their entire shift recorded and then reviewed for petty violations like not wearing his hat or badmouthing the chief at lunch.

A query. It may sound a silly question, but would body cameras and audio equipment also allowed be used as prosecution evidence against members of the public? Or are they intended for police disciplinary purposes only?

I just want to point out that this would be a huge cost.

I had a few ideas in the other thread:

Also this:

This is focused on the justice system as a whole, though.

Body cameras are a great place to start. Stop pitting the cop’s word against the accused’s, and start expecting video evidence behind every frivolous “resisting arrest” charge.

Is this the perfect use for Google Glass?
Google glass was going to be the Next Big Thing, and was supposed to be released for beta testing. But recently it’s dropped off the radar.
I don’t like the idea of the general public wearing Google glass all the time, but for specific professional use by police, it seems perfect. And I don’t think cost is a major issue.

Both, I would presume. Why not?

We already spend a huge amount on a single cops equipment. This would be worth it.

It’s not the cameras that are necessarily the high cost. It’s all the stuff that goes along with having cameras and digital recordings that can be used as evidence that costs so much. You need to store it, secure it and ensure it’s backed up. You also need a way to tag it, search it and water mark it. Are you going to have these cameras on every single police officer on ever second they are on duty? Just think about that in terms of one guy working an 8-10 hour shift and consider what it would take to keep that video for a year (usually, with video that can or could potentially be evidence you are talking 3-5 years or longer, but let’s just say a year). I’m not going to go into all the details on what this would take to do technically, but you would need to plan your storage and archive system for that year with room to spare, and you’d also need to ensure you can search it and secure it from contamination (by either the police themselves or by a hacker or anyone else not authorized to view it).

Trust me on this, when people talk about putting a camera on every cop they don’t have any idea what that really means or what the actual costs would be…and I’m not just talking about folks on this message board, but the cops and administrators that bring this up don’t have a clue either. It’s do-able, don’t get me wrong, but I doubt that most police organizations have the IT infrastructure to do it today without a hell of a lot of expense (to put it in perspective and give you a ball park, it would be the equivalent of buying every police officer a brand new squad car, fully tricked out with full radio and wireless equipment).

I don’t know if it would be worth it or not, but I know that no one is going to be willing to pay these sorts of costs on a compressed time scale. Some police organizations are doing this already, of course, but mostly those are the ones that already have the IT infrastructure to do it. Some organizations COULD do it, but again they would be the ones who already have invested in more infrastructure. But every cop in the US? No way this could be done in any sort of realistic way unless tax payers and elected officials do a complete 180 and decide to pour huge amounts of money into the various police departments (we are talking 10’s or even 100’s of billions) in addition to the current operating costs. Not going to happen, at least not in my experience. As a for instance, a lot of rural police departments (fire, rescue/public safety) today don’t even have reliable RADIO communications, let alone wireless data, let alone the ability to do what you are suggesting.

Of course, in my experience we don’t actually spend ‘huge amounts’ on individual cops today, even talking about training and equipment.



I think most cops would benefit from more training on how to interact with the public in general. Understanding the different communities you serve, understanding concerns the public could have, knowing how to de-escalate an encounter with a hostile civilian, and so on.

I don’t know. Some form of human rights protection against cops going around with cameras filming people? I know this is not their main function but I assume certain human rights violations can be argued in court. Arguments of what can be used as evidence. I would imagine this especially be the case if cameras are only picking up part of a narrative of events.

Back of the envelope math (link):

Adjust this out for the roughly 780,000 cops in the US, and it would be about $2.6 billion. Lots of money, sure, but this isn’t a cost per year, and for the whole country, it’s about $8 per capita. Over 5 years. Not really that much.

Considering that the cameras alone cost over $400k, I don’t believe those numbers. Either they already had a large investment in network infrastructure and were simply expanding their SAN shelves or they are totally blowing smoke up the reporters ass with those figures…or, they don’t plan on actually keeping, storing, archiving and protecting all of that data in a professional way (THAT I’d believe, since I run up against the same attitude from our own police departments saying why can’t they just buy some USB hard drives or a NAS and do it that way?? :p).

There are all sorts of calculations you can use, but do the math yourself. Say that 1 hour of video at a decent frame rate and high definition is about 10 GB of storage. Those are easy numbers. Now, you tell me…how much storage do you need for 350 cops 5 days a week for 10 hours a day for a year (and are you only keeping it a year? Some places have requirements for multiple years…I’ve seen up to 5 required for video evidence)? Now, you need to back that up too, and encrypt it and secure it and archive it so you can search it. There is no way you are building all of that for even the full $1.2 million, let alone for $1.2 million minus the $420k for cameras, and none of this even touches on the wireless infrastructure or core architecture to handle those kinds of loads and throughput.

Let’s say fairly low res at 2G/hr. Let’s say 8 hr shifts. 350 policemen. That’s 35058522 G/year storage - 1556 Terabytes per year. Store it in 2 data centers for integrity/backup purposes, that’s $0.1 per G - so $156K monthly charge for storage. $1.9M yearly charge for storing that data. Let’s say you have to keep the last 3 years worth of it - that’s $6M annual cost - roughly - or about $17K per police officer. That’s just the data charge. For the 780,000 police officers it would be probably somewhere around $15B / year. Granted, not all of the 780K go out on patrols, but enough do.

Add to that costs for maintenance, depreciation of equipment and hiring tens of thousands of people to deal with storing/maintaining all this data.

Actually, those numbers are probably better but you are forgetting something…this stuff is evidence, so you can’t just store it on any old cloud and you are going to be paying a bit more than 10 cents a gb for that. That’s one of the problems we ran into…we ended up having to build a lot of this ourselves (i.e. our own data centers, core infrastructure, SAN architecture and of course the VMs to run it all, not to mention the software to archive it and encrypt and water mark it, search it…plus the issue of actually dumping it from the lapel cameras and squad cars in a secure manner in the first place). We were looking at costs more like $25-30k per year per officer in the end when you factored in everything (i.e. this was the cost of doing this as a project projected over 5 years)…this was like buying them a new car every year for 5 years.

It comes down in the end to trade offs. Maybe you don’t archive the video as long (but then you run into issues that if you HAVE the video why didn’t you keep it), vetting the data and only keeping the ‘important’ stuff (same issue as the first one), lower the video quality/frame rate, not having the video run all the time (this is basically what we did with the car cameras, but we’ve already had issues with this), not worry so much about archival or security, etc. It’s do-able, especially for the richer counties/state agencies, but for everyone? No chance…many police departments don’t have a real IT shop or network infrastructure and couldn’t afford the costs in any case, nor do I believe the public would go for it for the most part.

ETA: Like I said earlier, many police departments don’t have really adequate radio infrastructure, and that’s a hell of a lot more critical than a camera on every officer, yet the funding just isn’t there in a lot of cases to even build that critical piece…and building radio networks are, by and large, cheaper than doing this other stuff.

That’s not necessarily a good thing. The same distance from the shopkeepers that can make graft harder distances them from the community they operate in. There’s different theories about how best to tailor policing.