Most police don't like having their actions filmed. That's been pretty obvious in Ferguson, Missouri, given the number of journalists who have been arrested. Not to mention the number of citizens who have had their phones or cameras confiscated because they contain video or still shots of police at protests or other situations making arrests. Cops have blocked photographers (and
sometimes roughed them up
) and smashed their cameras
whether they are journalists or just tourists. Such police behavior was typical at Occupy protests. They've used strobe lights to blind cameras and fired rubber bullets
to block video from being recorded or still shots from being snapped. The Department of Justice has made clear
that citizens have a broad right to record video of police activity. But that obviously hasn't filtered down everywhere it should.
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.
There could be a change in the wind, however. Putting body cameras on the cops the same as dash cams in patrol cruisers is gaining support among police critics and even in a few law enforcement circles. Here's Christopher Mims reporting
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%. [...]
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.
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.
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.
Comments are closed on this story.