Key Takeaways From Report On Milwaukee Police Department Body Cameras

May 23, 2018

The Milwaukee Police Department has been bracing for the public reaction to bodycamera footage showing the tasing of Bucks rookie player Sterling Brown. The incident happened this past January, and according to some officials familiar with the footage, it raises concerns about how the officers behaved in this incident. The impending release comes on the heels of another release - that of a report looking at the impact police body cameras have had on how officers at the department do their jobs.

"Subject stops went down. So, officers who had body cameras conducted significantly fewer subject stops than officers without body cameras."

The report was created by the Urban Institute, a think tank based in D.C. that conducts economic and social policy research. There were a few key takeaways from the evaluation, which analyzed two groups of officers during a 9-month period as MPD rolled out the body camera program. One group of officers was given body cameras, the other continued to work without them. 

"[There are] three big, key takeaways that we kind of gathered from this," says Bryce Peterson, the lead researcher on the report. "One is: subject stops went down. So, officers who had body cameras conducted significantly fewer subject stops than officers without body cameras." 

He continues, "The second big takeaway was that citizen complaints also went down. So the number of officers that had complaints against them during that 9-month period was lower than the group that had body cameras, compared to the group that didn't." 

"The number of officers that had complaints against them during that 9-month period was lower than the group that had body cameras, compared to the group that didn't."

The report lays out a couple possible reasons for why complaints were lodged against officers.

Peterson explains, "The officer may be using more respectful language because they know that the interaction is being recorded and the citizen may also be more civil when interacting with the officer. And in those cases, ideally, it wouldn’t escalate into a situation where a complaint needs to be made."

He continues, "The other reason, which is what we're tending to see in this data also, is that people are probably more reluctant to lodge a complaint against an officer who had a body camera." 

"Use of force did not go down. It didn't change at all, when you gave police body cameras."

There are repercussions for filing a false complaint against an officer, which may be a deterrant for those who fear misremembering their encounters with officers or those looking to get an officer in trouble. 

There was a third key takeaway from the report, which Peterson says may be surprising for some. 

"Use of force did not go down. It didn't change at all, when you gave police body cameras," he says.