The 40 police officers of Bremerton, Washington, may start wearing
body cameras in 2015 if the budget for them is approved.
As noted in a previous post
, the shooting of Michael Brown has stirred up considerable interest in mandating that police officers wear body cameras.
Advocates say cop cams would not only help remove some of the wild speculation about what went down at disputed incidents, thus making prosecutions easier, but also prevent some of those incidents from ever happening in the first place. Thus, fewer clashes like those that have arisen over the Brown slaying. Perhaps, advocates say, even more civility would arise when both police and citizens know that their interactions with each other are being recorded.
According to American Civil Liberties attorney Scott Greenwood, as cited by the Associated Press, one of out six U.S. police forces are already using body cams to one extent or another. In Rialto, California, after a highly successful year-long experiment with cop cams reduced citizen complaints against officers by 89 percent, the police department now requires all its roughly 100 officers to wear cop cams. The NYPD is looking into their feasibility. The LAPD is running a test on them.
But there are concerns, big ones, even among advocates. Noting that his organization's stance on the matter can't be conveyed well with the soundbites so beloved of television and the blogosphere, Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, had this to say
Although we generally take a dim view of the proliferation of surveillance cameras in American life, police on-body cameras are different because of their potential to serve as a check against the abuse of power by police officers. Historically, there was no documentary evidence of most encounters between police officers and the public, and due to the volatile nature of those encounters, this often resulted in radically divergent accounts of incidents. Cameras have the potential to be a win-win, helping protect the public against police misconduct, and at the same time helping protect police against false accusations of abuse.
We’re against pervasive government surveillance, but when cameras primarily serve the
function of allowing public monitoring of the government instead of the other way around, we generally regard that as a good thing. While we have opposed government video surveillance of public places, for example, we have supported the installation of video cameras on police car dashboards, in prisons, and during interrogations.
At the same time, body cameras have more of a potential to invade privacy than those
deployments. Police officers enter people’s homes and encounter bystanders, suspects, and victims in a wide variety of sometimes stressful and extreme situations.
To reiterate what I've previously said, nobody should expect a gadget to resolve all the problems associated with police interactions with the citizenry. Cop cams would be just one tool to make those interactions less confrontational. Like any tool, it could be subject to abuses, malfunctions and operator fiddling. Making a real difference will require overhauling police procedures, including shoot-to-kill policies that can be inappropriate responses to people who are mentally ill, as well as adopting sanity regarding Pentagon weapon giveaways. Most important of all is changing attitudes, not just of many cops on the beat, but also of their commanders and the commanders of their commanders.
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