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Study: Police body cams reduce use-of-force claims by up to 88 percent

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (WJLA) - As we continue to learn more about what happened more than a week ago in Ferguson, Missouri, some are focusing on what we may never know.

A police officer wears a body camera attached to his shirt lapel. (AP Photo)
A police officer demonstrates a body camera attached to his glasses that can feed video into his smartphone. (AP Photo)

At the heart of the violence and chaos in Ferguson is one question - what actually happened in the moments leading up to the death of Michael Brown?

Three people say they witnessed the shooting and have spoken to reporters, giving similar accounts. Authorities have spoken to the officer accused, but there's still something missing, as Chris Rickerd of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says.

“If body-worn cameras had been in place, there would be an objective account of the events that could at least be assessed for if the use-of-force policy was followed or not," he said.

Though the ACLU is an organization that usually advocates against surveillance, it's a win-win situation when it comes to authorities being watched, he said.

“It would exonerate the police officer if the allegation of abuse were false, but also as you said, provide an objective account of what happened," he explained.

So-called "cop cams" that are already in use around the country are made to clip onto an officer's lapel or even onto their sunglasses.

In a one-year study in Rialto, California, the numbers speak for themselves - use-of-force cases by officers wearing the cameras have dropped 60 percent, and complaints are down 88 percent.

Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, says this could also help police by sorting out untrue claims - but he adds, if widely adopted, the practice would need to come with some restrictions.

"As they record what the police is doing, they are also often recording what citizens are doing - perhaps storing that, perhaps making it searchable," he said. "If the film is there and is being stored for some period of time, someone else will want to use it. "

The danger, he says - another trove of video with the ability to apply facial recognition software in cases totally unrelated.

Once the chaos in Ferguson quiets, the quest for truth will likely remain.

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