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Newtown police earn high marks in study of body camera footage

Damian Dovarganes

Police in one Connecticut town got good marks for their conduct in a study of 500 hours of body camera footage, in a rare kind of study that looks at how police interact with the public, according to researchers.

James McCabe, a retired NYPD inspector and a Sacred Heart University criminal justice professor, said the police chief of Newtown, Connecticut asked him for help. He wanted to know what researchers could learn from body camera footage. McCabe and two students went through the footage recorded over two months in 2020.

“We looked at the overall satisfaction of the encounter,” McCabe said, adding his researchers determined how satisfied people appeared based on their reactions in the videos. “We looked at whether or not force was used. We looked at whether there was an escalation in the encounter.”

The researchers gave police good marks on all of the above criteria, as well as transparency, tone of voice, and fairness.

“There [were] only three encounters they rated where the civilian appeared dissatisfied with the service,” McCabe said. “And these had to do with enforcement events where they were either given speeding tickets and arrested. It was a nice thing to see, the really positive quality of encounters between the officers and the public.”

But McCabe said he worries the results may have been too positive. which may point to issues with the study. He said he wants to refine the study and try it again to check for any problems with methodology or bias on the part of researchers.

Studies of body camera footage in Milwaukee, Washington D.C. and other cities have shown they have little effect on officers’ conduct with the public.

Note: Sacred Heart University is the licensee of WSHU Public Radio.

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.