All Israeli Cops to Wear Body Cams After Pilot Finds They Reduce Complaints

The pilot found that the presence of the cameras had maximum effect when the public knew the encounter was being filmed

An Israeli police officer wearing a body camera at the launch of the pilot program, August 2016.
Moti Milrod

All on-duty police officers will wear body cameras by the middle of 2017, following a successful pilot in which officers recorded their interactions with members of the Israeli public.

The findings from the pilot showed that the cameras had a major impact on the work of the police – from their encounters with the public to the presentation of evidence in court. The police stations where the pilot was conducted collectively showed a 25 percent drop in the number of public complaints against the police.

Police officers who participated in the pilot expressed satisfaction with the program, which also led to a change in police behavior.

Members of the public who witnessed the work of the police officers wearing the cameras also expressed considerable satisfaction. However, the pilot found that the presence of the cameras had maximum effect when the public knew the encounter was being filmed.

The pilot was carried out between August 2016 and January 2017 by traffic police and patrol officers from four police stations, including officers in Be’er Sheva, Petah Tikva, Holon and Haifa. Also participating were traffic police from the Negev region and smaller numbers from the Jerusalem area. In total, 138 police officers took part in the six-month pilot.

The police said the cameras were “reality changing” in contacts between the police and the public, and might bring about a significant change in the public’s confidence in law enforcement – which has been at a disturbingly low level in recent years. The police also view it as a way of countering videos of encounters between the police and members of the public posted on social media, footage that the police say has lowered the public’s faith in law enforcement officials.

There were 5,245 videos taken in which the police were called to a scene. (In some instances, more than one officer was dispatched, each with a camera.) Among the cases filmed, 379 involved significant incidents in which the police detained a suspect or suspects for questioning or arrest.

Twenty videos were sent to the police prosecutor’s office for use in legal proceedings. The police said it was decided to use the video footage in these cases because it left no room for doubt regarding the conduct of the accused.

Legal officials expressed criticism of the project, however, noting that in some cases it wasn’t clear when the police officer should have turned on and off the camera. Additionally, in some cases it was difficult to get a full picture of an incident from the footage.

An opinion poll conducted prior to the pilot found that only 46 percent of respondents expressed confidence in their local police force. Another survey conducted among people who received the services of police wearing the cameras showed a 56 percent increase in confidence in local law enforcement.

However, a poll at the conclusion of the pilot surprised the police by showing how low the public’s faith has sunk, with only 40 percent expressing confidence in their local police – and these were respondents who were aware of the presence of the cameras. It reflected a lower level of faith in the police than the poll prior to the pilot program. Nevertheless, some 70 percent of those polled at the end expressed satisfaction over the presence of the cameras.

The police officers reported at the conclusion of the pilot program that they felt more in control and had greater understanding of the situations to which they were called, and that the incidents were concluded more quickly due to the cameras.

The police acknowledged being more cautious in what they said and in their conduct, which is also reflected in a review of the footage. The police said they also felt more confident in handling the tasks they had been assigned.

Interestingly, the study found that the cameras were not sufficiently noticeable, particularly at night, and that the results were improved by informing members of the public that there was a camera present.