Body Camera Study Shows Newtown Police Doing ‘Fantastic Job’
Dr James McCabe, a professor at Sacred Heart University and former New York City police officer, has presented a study of body camera footage from Newtown police officers, concluding that the officers received “overwhelmingly positive scores” and were doing a “fantastic job.”
“The results were somewhat extraordinary,” said McCabe. “I didn’t expect the data to be this positive.”
McCabe proposed doing another study utilizing data from March 2021 to April 2021, and revising his methodology.
“I said we have to do this again, it’s almost too good,” said McCabe. “I guess it’s a good problem to have.”
Commission Chairman Joel Faxon said that after fine-tuning methodology, the study could be a “huge tool throughout the country” that would “go a long way to bolster public support and belief that interactions can be verified and are overwhelmingly positive.”
“This could be helpful to other law enforcement organizations if its fine-tuned and published,” said Faxon. “Policing is a customer service business, that’s their number one job, though sometimes it’s not customer friendly what has to happen. If this can assist other departments in customer service there are huge benefits.”
Police Chief James Viadero said he had heard McCabe did a similar study in New York and felt it would be beneficial to the department to have an “outside eye” look at their footage “in efforts of transparency.”
“The officers did great work, they get the kudos,” said Viadero.
Police body worn cameras were first deployed in Newtown in 2017.
Body cams increase police accountability, provide evidence of officer conduct, create improved community trust, reduce civilian complaints and “offer differing views on use of force,” said McCabe.
Specifics Of Study
McCabe said that his study, conducted using body cam footage from March 2020 and April 2020, took a sample of 500 random body camera videos of 3,800 videos available during that time period. A pair of student interns from Sacred Heart were assigned 250 each to review and score with a range of -5 to five on voice, transparency, impartiality, escalation, and satisfaction.
For voice, officers were rated on the formality of their speech, how friendly and cordial the officer was, and how well the officer listened to the people they were interacting with.
“The outcome is often less important to people than how they were treated,” McCabe said.
The results for voice were 90.8 percent, or 395, rated five, 14 rated four, six rated three, and 20 rated zero.
For transparency, officers were rated on whether they took active steps to describe what actions a person needed to do to resolve the issue, and whether the officer appeared knowledgeable of the law and procedure.
The results for transparency were 87.4 percent, or 380, rated five, ten rated four, four rated three, and 41 rated zero.
For escalation, officers were given a lower score for failing to prevent a situation from escalating and a better score for keeping a situation from escalating.
The results for escalation had 89 percent, or 387, of videos rated five, five videos rated four, three videos rated six, one video rated two, 34 videos rated zero, one video rated -2, and one video rated -3.
Police Commission member Neil Chaudhary questioned how videos where an officer had no need to try to de-escalate a situation and where no escalation occurred; McCabe said they were assigned a rating of five.
“The ratings of five makes it sound like they were dealing with lots of hot situations,” said Chaudhary.
McCabe said that was “one of the flaws with the methodology” and he felt that a situation with no escalation or de-escalation should be a zero for future studies.
“It’s a training issue [with the student interns] on our end,” McCabe said.
For impartiality, officers were rated on whether they appeared respectful, and whether they demonstrated “fairness in the encounter” and remained neutral between parties involved in the encounter.
The results for impartiality were 91.3 percent, or 397, rated five, eight rated four, three rated three and 27 rated zero.
For satisfaction, officers were rated on how satisfied any involved parties appeared with the encounter.
The results for overall satisfaction were 78.9 percent, or 343, rated five, 11 rated 4, 12 rated three, one rated two, 63 rated zero, one rated -2, two rated -3, and two rated -5.
“Both -5 scores involved the same encounter,” said McCabe. “The body cam videos were taken at two separate times and recorded a DWI arrest of a white male, age 20 to 30. The defendant was belligerent, disrespectful, and hostile toward the officer.”
McCabe noted the other three negative scores “involved traffic stops where the motorists were not pleased about receiving a ticket.”
The demographics of parties involved in the videos were four Asian, 34 black, 41 Hispanic, 331 white, four other, and 86 unknown. For gender, 211 were female, 224 were male and 65 were unknown.
For age, 22 were 16 to 20, 101 were 20 to 30, 84 were 30 to 40, 96 were 40 to 50. 55 were 50 to 60, 48 were over 60, and 94 were unknown. Unknowns were the result of cases were certain details were not apparent, and made identifying race, gender and age difficult.
Of the 500, 65 videos were not included in the final results due to this, leaving 435 counted for ratings.
Encounter types were fairly typical for the Newtown Police Department, with 14 alarms, 30 arrests, 23 disputes, 164 general calls for service, 63 miscellaneous encounters, 80 motor vehicle accidents, 36 reporting crimes, seven suspicious activity, and 83 traffic stops.
Of the videos, there were only four uses of force, and all were involving open hand techniques such as restraining a suspect. No punches, kicks, or weapons were utilized, said McCabe.
“In all of these incidents the civilian encountered was hostile toward the police officer and the situation escalated to the point that the officer needed to use open hand compliance techniques to manage the situation,” McCabe said.
McCabe is an associate professor in the Criminal Justice Department at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. He is a 21-year veteran of the New York City Police Department. During his NYPD career, he held numerous assignments, including commander of the Office of Labor Relations and commander of the Training Bureau and Police Academy, as well as numerous other operational and managerial assignments.
He holds a PhD and M Phil, in criminal justice from CUNY Graduate Center, an MA in Criminal Justice, from John Jay College, an MA in Labor and Policy Studies, SUNY Empire State College, and BA in Psychology, CUNY Queens College, June, 1989. He is a graduate of the Executive Management Program, Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and the FBI National Academy.
Reporter Jim Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.