Not that this new. Camera-wielders—protesters, journalists, passersby—have been special targets of police harassment, confiscation and whacks with billyclubs for decades. The problem for them now is that photos and video can go viral while the police action is still underway.
So it is in Rialto, Calif., where an entire police force is wearing so-called body-mounted cameras, no bigger than pagers, that record everything that transpires between officers and citizens. In the first year after the cameras' introduction, the use of force by officers declined 60%, and citizen complaints against police fell 88%. [...]White's 2014 report—Police Officer Body-Worn Cameras: Assessing the Evidence—notes that advocates of attaching body cameras to officers predict the outcome to be better behavior by both cops and the people they come into contact with, transparency that leads to more trust and fewer violent confrontations, and even less swearing and fewer racial slurs.
Michael White, a professor of criminology at Arizona State University and, as the sole author of the Justice Department's report on police and body-mounted cameras, says the cameras, now a curiosity, could soon be ubiquitous. It has happened before: Taser's guns went from introduction to use by more than two-thirds of America's 18,000 police departments in about a decade. "It could be as little as 10 years until we see most police wearing these," says Dr. White. [...]
In the U.K., where tests with them began in 2005, studies have shown that they aid in the prosecution of crimes, by providing additional, and uniquely compelling, evidence. In the U.S., in some instances they have shortened the amount of time required to investigate a shooting by police from two-to-three months to two-to-three days.
But these are merely perceptions since less than a handful of U.S. surveys—like the one in Rialto—have been undertaken to see whether the predicted outcome comes to pass. But the evidence we do have, from here and abroad, indicates that cop cams can make a positive difference. The question that arises is why a pallet or two of the tons of money spent on inundating police departments with military hardware couldn't be spent instead on outfitting every officer in America with a body camera. A lot more benefit to the citizenry doing that than handing out more machine-guns, grenades and mine-resistant armored vehicles.
But, whether cop cams become ubiquitous or not, it will take a good deal more than technology to change police forces in the systemic way that is so badly needed.