MOTW: Cops, Video, Smartphone Penetration & Dropped Complaints

Posted on 20 May 2011 by


At the SMILE Conference I gave a talk, and then moderated a panel, on the use of mobile video by citizens and by police. I gave a range of statistics I snaked from ComScore; in this article here I am also including some that were released by Gartner Group on 18 May. First I’m gonna talk about how everyone has mobile recording devices. Then I’m gonna talk about why cops should have them. Then I’m gonna talk about the Metric of the Week, which is related to the latter – and how one agency got everything it should want from a technology project … and threw it away.

  • For the 3 months ending February 2011, 234 million Americans over 13 used mobile devices.
  • 70 million Americans owned smartphones at end Feb 11, up thirteen percent from the preceding three month period.
  • Gartner says smartphones accounted for 23.6% of overall sales in the first quarter of 2011, an increase of 85% year-on-year
  • Google Android market share is up 7% since Nov, to 33% according to ComScore – and to 36% according to Gartner.

The main point is that growth in smartphones – phones which also have the ability to record video and audio – is more than explosive. Roberta Cozza, principal research analyst at Gartner, said that the share of smartphones would have been even higher, but “manufacturers announced a number of high-profile devices during the first quarter of 2011 that would not ship until the second quarter of 2011. We believe some consumers delayed their purchases to wait for these models.”

Gartner has, handily, given us a neato table of smartphone device sales and market share for 2011 over 2010 which might be of interest to agencies contemplating standardizing on a given platform, such as RIM (BlackBerry), iPhone or Google’s Android:

The Smartphone World According To Gartner

Company 1Q11
1Q11 Market
Share (%)
1Q10 Units 1Q10 Market
Share (%)
Android 36,267.8 36.0 5,226.6 9.6
Symbian 27,598.5 27.4 24,067.7 44.2
iOS 16,883.2 16.8 8,359.7 15.3
Research In Motion 13,004.0 12.9 10,752.5 19.7
Microsoft 3,658.7 3.6 3,696.2 6.8
Other OS 3,357.2 3.3 2,402.9 4.4
Total 100,769.3 100.0 54,505.5 100.0

Source: Gartner (May 2011)

More Statistics On Smartphones and Mobile
At SMILE, I continued the talk with information about the generation gap in mobile: 25% of American mobile web users are mobile only – kids today don’t get landlines, and why should they? To the police officer, this is a statistic speaking to the ubiquity and the persistence of a mobile video recording device on young people.

Finally, in 2011, 85% of new handsets will have mobile web access.

What This Means to the Copper On The Street: People Got Video
Those are some interesting statistics, and for officers, it means that we have to assume that every person we come into contact with has a mobile recording device of some kind. And if they don’t, whomever they’re with does. Or, as I told Fox News,

“I work in Texas. I assume everybody has a gun, [and] I assume everybody has some kind of personal recording device on them.”

So what does this mean? It means to me that I need to have a video recording of every encounter. I personally carry the VieVu body camera, but there is a range of products out there and this is not the forum to review them. What I will say is that there’s debate in the police community about whether body-worn cameras are a good or bad idea (few I have spoken with have a neutral opinion).

Lots of agencies are starting to wear them. Yesterday I read that the San Francisco Police Department is going to issue body-worn video cameras to officers for use during certain kinds of arrests. This in response to a rash of accusations of police misconduct:

The department will be looking at several different models of personal cameras that an officer would be equipped with before going into a drug bust or other arrest that requires consent or a search warrant. Suhr confirmed the plan Tuesday just hours after Public Defender Jeff Adachi showed reporters a video he says is proof that officers stole a laptop and digital camera from a suspected drug dealer. It was at least the sixth surveillance video allegedly showing police misconduct released this year by Adachi and local criminal defense attorneys.

What is fascinating to me is that that is precisely why I wear my camera: I am determined to have evidence that I have acted reasonably, and am so confident that I will that I have chosen to make it in subpoena-able form. In January, the Austin Police Department announced it wanted to do the same thing, following the lead of the San Jose Police Department more than a year ago.

And the most compelling statistic I have seen about this is one I can’t put a finger on – people think that video recording will reduce complaints and accusations against cops, but where are the stats on that? I would love to see the metrics. I have heard (and stupidly repeated) the claim that 80% of complaints against police are dropped when the complainant learns that video of the incident is available.

That would be awesome if it could be corroborated, which I just can’t do, so I’m going to classify that in the “Tosh” bucket for now. (What? I said Tosh. Google it.)

So what percentage of complaints go away when video is available? That there’s the metric of the week. It appears that the answer is 14.3%. That is,

A 14.3% reduction in complaints against police, specifically for incivility and excessive use of force when headcamera in use.

That Metric of the Week comes from a report by the government of Plymouth, England, whose police force began using head-mounted cameras in July, 2007.

Year-on-year, they found that those complaints sank 14%, but they also had some other wonderful results:

In the report were further key results since our project started. Compared to 2005/06 there has been a:

  • 1.2% reduction in violent crime in South and Central sectors by end of March 2007 (wounding reduced by 12.8%);
  • 26.9% increase in detections [That’s British for “closing the case”] for violent crime, specifically violence in public places and domestic violence;
  • 7.3% increase in offences brought to justice (all violent crime);
  • 22.4% reduction in officer time spent on paperwork and file preparation in incidents where head-cameras had been in use;

So they closed more than 26% more cases in violent and family violence, reduced by nearly a quarter the time spent on paperwork, and raised by 7% the number of cases which went to trial, all in the span of a year! That’s awesome!

So they canceled the project.

Yes, the wonderfully named Detective Chief Inspector Beer told the BBC that the department was calling it quits,

“They are a very useful tool but this is all about seeking value for money.”

Apparently the cameras Plymouth was using cost £1700 ($2754) a pop, for a total cost of £330,000 ($534,752).

Now, as we pointed out a couple of weeks ago in our Intel Intelligencer Supplemental: Wasting Police Time, heaving money in the bin is not necessarily a deal-breaker for the UK police – who only recently tossed out their astounding “Stop and Account” form, through which the Home Office estimated sucked 800,000 man-hours annually from the un-refillable coffers of its officers’ lives.

As if to demonstrate the bounteous bumper-crop of wonderful names in the Devon countryside’s Police service, and certainly to inject a bit of sanity into a thoroughly ridiculous brace of calculus engaged in by senior UK police management referring to properly-austere-sounding terms like cost-cutting and spreadsheets and line-items and ‘overruns’, Sergeant Nigel Rabbitts, chairman of the Devon & Cornwall Police Federation, told This Is Plymouth,

“You can’t run an emergency service as if it’s a supermarket. I think the force is cost cutting where they haven’t really looked at the operational benefits. It’s a sign of what else will happen. This is about officer safety and the public’s safety. You can’t put a price on that.”

Amen, brother! With obvious and empirically demonstrated benefits from a program of wearing cameras on your heads (and, not for nuthin’ but I got a uncle in the business who can get that price down by, like, seriously, 50%, so gimme a call), it is beyond us how it is possible that any self-respecting police department would get rid of something that patently saves lives.

Where were these folks when the police minister was cooing to the BBC that “Head cameras ‘help tackle abuse'”, and that

[Police Minister Tony McNulty] said: “The use of body worn cameras has the potential to improve significantly the quality of evidence provided by police officers in the drive to reduce crime, the fear of crime and increase the proportion of offenders brought to justice. This government is committed to tackling violent crime and anti-social behaviour, and the assessment so far is that the deployment of this new technology could be very effective in reducing crime, acting as a preventative tool and a means to enhance detections.”