16 Jan Police body cameras – A solution or a complexity?
Police brutalities have been on the rise in the past decade. With internet gripping people worldwide, increased footage of cruelty being committed by officers in uniform is frequently getting viral on the internet.
In response to multiple high-profile shooting of unarmed minorities by police officers, President Obama pledged to fund a nationwide program to equip agencies with body cameras. Police body cameras are small cameras, attached to an officer’s body, with audio-visual recording functionalities along with internal data storage to save footage for investigation.
Let’s explore the viability of this solution in detail.
Proponents believe that the cameras create transparency and culpability and reduce police and anti-police – violence. They also say that body camera provides evidence that proves or disproves police misconduct allegations. Opponents of body cameras argue that the cameras negatively impact the morale of officers by straining them with undue equipment and placing them under constant video surveillance. They also believe that these are too expensive and unreliable.
Police body cameras have been implemented as a promising solution in many countries around the world from Australia to Uruguay. The first trials were done by the United States in 2012 in Rialto, CA. 45 states and DC have so far received funding from the DOJ to equip law enforcement agencies and abide by the Body-Worn Camera Policy and Implementation Program. This has resulted in an overall expense of more than $58 million between 2015 and 2017. There are 35 states which have introduced specific legislation covering the use of such electronic surveillance devices. A recent study provided by the National Institute of Justice identified more than 60 different kinds of body cameras available for sale.
There is no denying that use of body cameras create transparency and liability. They not only reduce police violence but also inculcate fear among those who attempt violence against police officers. Body cameras can provide credible evidence for and against misconduct allegations and not only helps the police but also builds trust for police among the citizens. However, it can also lead to high-stress among police officers as we all detest the idea of being under constant surveillance. It can easily lead to leakage of sensitive evidence material and can jeopardize the security of witnesses. The high costs of such devices are also an added expense on an already staggering economy. Adding to the long list of issues is the concern of proven unreliability of such cameras.
Proven misconduct by police officers and increasing cell phone video evidence submitted by citizens to back it up has already jolted the confidence of police department among people. This lack of trust has transformed the already tricky job of police officers into a nightmare. Communities and legislators supporting the use of body-worn cameras (BWCs) are hopeful that this technology will fuel a cultural reform, reduce abuse of power and promote accountability among officers. BWC advocates believe that when the officers are aware that their conduct is being recorded, they are more likely to behave in a civilized manner. In cases of misconduct, such footage will act as a credible piece of evidence and will lead to strict disciplinary actions, overall resulting in a reformed taskforce. If the expected results are achieved, it will drastically reduce the use of unnecessary force by police.
However, it’s also possible that BWCs could increase the use of force. In an unpleasant borderline situation, constant surveillance can make officers too wary about their actions, and a simple apprehension of a criminal can quickly escalate into a shootout. Most people fail to realize that violent criminals do not behave and act like ordinary citizens and use of force is imperative to stop a crime or arrest perpetrators.
It is essential to do credible group studies on police body cameras before a final decision can be made. What do you think?
Should police officers be required to wear body cameras?