Robert A. Naslund was a brilliant scholar and professor I respected highly during my years as a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California. An expert in curriculum and assessment, he expressed concern that persons with a vested interest in the outcome of teaching should never Naslundassess or evaluate instruction: “Teachers should never administer school achievement tests because they have a vested interest in the instructional outcome.” Since then, school testing has become known as high-stakes testing, teachers often dismissed because students record substandard scores on standardized and state tests, and fraudulent student test scores have too-often been discovered, major cheating scandals occurring in public schools in Atlanta, GA; El Paso, TX; and Washington, DC.

It is the violation of Naslund’s assessment principle that troubles me about the $1,100,000+ that the Anaheim City Council agreed to pay TASER for body-worn video cameras for Anaheim police officers. What result is expected if Abbott Laboratories, manufacturer of Vicodin, our nation’s most popular medication, were to conduct the research to establish its efficacy? Yet it is TASER (the same company that developed the electroshock gun during the 1960s) that has a vested financial interest by assessing the effectiveness of its body-worn video cameras. TASER sales are brisk and very lucrative these days: According to the Washington Post, sales during the past quarter exceeded $11,000,000—four times the sales TASER recorded during 2013. Anaheim subsequently contributed its $1+ million, and New York City is currently considering a proposal to equip its officers with cameras and increase TASER sales $32,000,000.

Whether cops should wear Kodaks is not the focus of this message. It is the untenable practice by city councils to spend millions of dollars to purchase a technology for which no substantive evidence exists for its effectiveness or for the stated purposes for which councils have purportedly bought it. Valid studies of body-worn video cameras have noted TASER’s role as the principal or collaborating researcher—and the absence of evaluation by independent investigators in the results.

In a study for the U.S. Air Force regarding making more informed decisions when buying new technologies, researchers concluded: “Various risks of committing to unvalidated technologies are much greater than any overall gain claimed for system performance.” Conducting a well-conceived pilot study of body-worn video cameras by police officers in Anaheim would have been a much smarter and far less costly option instead of immediately purchasing an untested, unvalidated technology. In this case, the Anaheim City Council trusted the fox.

Principal U.S. Studies of Police-Worn Video Cameras:

  1. La Vigne, N., Lowry, S., Markman, J., & Dwyer, A. (2013). Evaluating the use of public surveillance cameras for crime control and prevention. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/3p2jfv8
  2. Miller, L., Toliver,, & Police Executive Research Forum (2014). Implementing a body-worn camera program: recommendations and lessons learned. Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/lxdg7ej
  3. Police Foundation. (2013). Self-awareness to being watched and socially-desirable behavior: A field experiment on the effect of body-worn cameras on police use-of-force. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/mb3of5a
  4. White, M. (2014). Police officer body-worn cameras: Assessing the evidence. Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/q87pdtu