Stats shed new light on police use of body cams, Tasers

Jul 7, 2015 11:33 AM by CBS News

About one in three local police departments provided officers with body cameras in 2013 and the authorization of Taser guns increased more than tenfold between 2003 and 2013, according to statistics released Tuesday by the Justice Department.

The data shed light on the use of police equipment as officials are examining policing tactics and adding cameras to increase transparency and to protect their officers.

In addition to body-worn cameras, 6 percent of police departments provided at least some officers with weapon-attached cameras in 2013, the survey said. In May, the Department of Justice announced a $20 million pilot program for body-worn cameras at police departments around the country.

Last summer, the Ferguson, Missouri police department was trained to use and wear body cameras. The training came amid increased attention on police use of force in the wake of the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Nearly 90 percent of local police departments were using some type of video camera technology in 2013, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics survey. About 17 percent used automated license plate readers and about 49 percent used video cameras for the surveillance of public areas.

According to the survey, there was an increase in other forms of technology and safety equipment. The percentage of the more than 12,000 local police departments that used in-car video cameras in 2013 (68 percent) was higher than in 2007 (61 percent). The number of local police departments authorizing the use of Tasers and stun guns increased more than tenfold between 2000 and 2013 -- up from 7 percent to 81 percent.

The survey showed that 94 percent of police departments allowed their officers to use pepper spray and 87 percent allowed the used of batons. Furthermore, most local police departments allowed defensive physical tactics including open-hand (91 percent), takedown (89 percent) and closed-hand (85 percent) techniques. Slightly less than 20 percent of local police departments allowed neck-restraint tactics.

Last July, a white New York Police Department officer was videotaped restraining Eric Garner, a black man who yelled "I can't breathe!" 11 times before he passed out. The officer who wrapped his arm around Garner's neck said it was a sanctioned takedown move, not a banned chokehold. The heavyset Garner, who had asthma, was pronounced dead at a hospital.

The officer was not charged.

Rialto Police Chief Tony Farrar told CBS News last year that outfitting police officers with body cameras is going to become the norm.

"This is something that's changing the face of law enforcement," he said.

Farrar became the first police chief in the country to outfit all 75 beat cops with body cameras worn on lapels or eyeglasses. Others are now looking at Rialto as a test case for their own department-wide programs.

"People tend to behave a little better when they know they're on camera," Farrar said.

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