Over the years, criminal suspects, arrestees, and other individuals have lodged numerous allegations against police officers for the use of excessive force. The reports of violence and instances of wrongdoing have drawn the attention of the media, as well as millions around the globe. It has also caused chaos and conflict to recently erupt in cities like Ferguson, New York and Baltimore.
As a result, many law enforcement agencies are discussing the use of body cameras for police officers in the hopes it will not only minimize the use of excessive force but also reduce the number of false claims. According to Newsweek, a recent trial has shown that body cameras for police officers “reduced the use of force by roughly 50 percent.” Complaints and accusations against police officers also dropped by 90 percent during the course of the 12-month trial, as compared to the prior year.
The Controversy and Concerns Raised by Police Wearing Body Cameras
While trial results seem to be abundantly clear, the Chicago Tribune reports the use of body cameras for police officers has led to controversy and raised serious concerns pertaining to:
- Issues of privacy
- Involvement of juveniles
- Cost of acquisition and maintenance
- Daily data retrieval processes
- Data storage
- Video accessibility to the general public
Unless these issues are fully addressed and resolved, it is unlikely we will see the broad use of body cameras for police officers in the near future. Despite the concerns, two transit officers with the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District who opted to purchase their own body cameras have already been able to provide valuable evidence in court. Through video documentation, the court was able to see a clear and accurate account of the incidents in question, free from conjecture.
Another patrolman, who also bought his own body camera, told the Chicago Tribune that wearing the camera has helped reduce the number of false complaints. Video camera and cell phone recordings of police encounters do not always show the complete picture and can lead to false accusations that damage a good officer’s reputation. With a body camera, the officers can show video footage of the entire incident from beginning to end.
In northwest Indiana, a variety of body cameras for police officers are being debuted to test the effectiveness, quality and overall usefulness of these devices. If the body cameras prove to be effective, expense and other concerns would have to be addressed prior to a department or statewide rollout.
Body Cameras Can Be Beneficial for All Parties
In the long run, it is hoped that body cameras can be beneficial for all parties. Not only could police use body cameras to provide a complete picture of a police encounter, they may go a long way towards improving public perception of police.
According to the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) of the U.S. Department of Justice, some of the perceived benefits of body-worn cameras include:
- An increase in police accountability
- The prevention of confrontational situations between officers and the public
- Increased accuracy in records of transpired events
- Easier resolution of officer-involved complaints and other incidents
- Improved transparency for law enforcement agencies
- Heightened ability to identify and correct internal law enforcement agency issues
- Better officer performance through monitoring and training
- Clear documentation of encounters with suspects or arrestees
As many of these benefits have already proven out, the cost of implementing a body-warn camera program in each police department appears to be warranted. COPS also recommends certain actions be taken to address the various concerns related to body-worn cameras, including:
- Implementation of policies requiring officers to activate their body cameras when responding to a call for service, during traffic stops or prior to any law enforcement-related encounter. Limited exceptions may be made when recording is deemed unsafe or impossible.
- Obtaining consent prior to recording interviews with victims of an alleged crime.
- Giving police officers the right to use discretion, and choose whether they wish to keep their body cameras off, when interviewing witnesses of a criminal act or members of the community interested in talking about alleged criminal activity.
- Setting up guidelines and standards designed to hold officers accountable for their actions, and allow for the investigation of instances when cameras were turned off when departmental policy required use.
- Implementation of measures designed to prevent officers or anyone else tampering with, deleting or copying video footage obtained on a body camera.
- Setting standards as to when video footage would be reviewed, as well as when it could be released to the media or general public.
The implementation of body cameras on a widespread basis is expected to play an essential role in resolving accusations of excessive force and police brutality. Those officers who have made a habit of violating the rights of suspects must be held accountable. The hardworking law enforcement officers who do not engage in rights violations or use of excessive force deserve our respect and must be protected against false accusations. Body cameras appear to be the answer for both issues.