ARANSAS PASS, TEXAS — Researchers at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi have released results of a study reviewing how police interact with civilians.
The 12-month study researched body camera footage from the Aransas Pass Police Department with the goal of determining whether specific factors, such as race and gender, correlate with the nature and outcomes of interactions.
The majority of citizens have few personal interactions with police, but what they do have is a constant barrage of negative exposure to police-citizen interactions via the news or social media,” said Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Dr. Wendi Pollock. “Studying the number and nature of police-citizen contacts can potentially increase transparency between the two units, thereby improving safety, trust, and quality of these interactions.”
The department began outfitting the officers with cameras in 2012 when less than 10 percent of police departments nationwide were using the tool. By 2014, the entire department was equipped with cameras. They also archive footage for a year, unlike many departments that only archive videos for 60-90 days.
The research team randomly selected 600 out of 30,000 videos from the department that included officer-citizen interactions to analyze, with most of the clips being recorded before the officers knew the videos would be used in the study.
It took the team about 18 months to review all the footage.
“It was incredibly time-consuming to watch and code each interaction, somewhere around 325 hours of video,” said Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Sarah Scott, “but because we were watching video and not relying on research observations during a police officer ride-along, we were able to observe interactions as they occurred, without our presence influencing anyone’s behavior.”
Results found that force of any kind was rare and police-citizen interactions in the department were not influenced by gender or race. The likelihood of a citizen getting arrested or receiving an citation was mostly tied to whether they were pulled over for a traffic violation or intoxicated. Out of the 600 videos, a majority ended in a positive outcome.
Other major conclusions included police-citizen interactions were slightly more likely to be initiated by officers than civilians and the interaction was highly initiated through traffic stops. By a large margin, interactions with police most likely ended in conversation.
In only three incidents did citizens have force threatened or used against them, with none being lethal.
“The people of Aransas Pass should feel good,” Pollock said. “They can trust that their police officers generally see them as more than just someone being pulled over. Aransas Pass Police will listen to them, try to help them, and above all, seem to be willing to do their best to treat citizens with dignity and respect. Citizens can now trust that — not just because their PD says it — but because an outside group of independent researchers conducted a systematic observation of cases and found it to be true.”
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