Two words: Body cameras. Wearable video has become standard equipment in departments across the nation, with some dramatic results. Since its force deployed wearable cameras in 2010, use-of-force incidents in Oakland, California – an early adopter – have plunged 72 percent, according to department records.
Other, more systemic fixes have emerged. In Las Vegas, police have embraced de-escalation as a guiding principle, weaving the idea into a revised use-of-force policy that shapes its policing approach. Officers are trained annually using real-life scenarios to confront controversial challenges like mistaking harmless objects in citizens’ hands for guns. The department evaluates every serious incident to determine what might have been handled better – and the learning is baked into future trainings. A Washington State program, likewise, is designed to make officers “guardians of democracy” rather than “warrior” cops – controverting decades of traditional police training anchored in confrontation.
New York City has taken a very different approach: Its ClaimStat program tracks allegations of police misconduct and shares the information publicly. The idea: shining a light on misconduct cases, and highlighting the financial impact, will have a chilling effect – ultimately reducing the number of lawsuits against the city. The increasing use of body cameras is anchored in a similar logic: the possibility that encounters between police and community members will be made public will alter officers’ behavior.
But the biggest thrust is around “community policing,” a broad range of practices that aims to avoid confrontation altogether by getting officers out of their cars and into neighborhoods, improving relations with the citizens they’re protecting. Two years after Canton, Ohio, police began patrolling high-crime neighborhoods by foot and organizing community events to build trust, violent crime had dropped by 40%.
In real life, culture change happens very slowly. Training recruits to avoid use of force can introduce new approaches among younger officers, but shifting practice among existing officers can take years. In the meantime, body cameras offer a quick fix. They raise privacy questions – but standards have emerged to guide their use and the storage of resulting footage. Given the clear results, the more important question may be: Why isn’t every officer wearing one?