Body cameras for police: A win-win situation?
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
In this time of bitter political polarization, bipartisanship can appear to be a lost cause. It can be difficult to find common ground in debates as heated as the ones surrounding law enforcement and accountability. Thus, the idea of a "win-win" situation — especially on a heated social issue — may seem impossible.
If the U.S. cannot even unite under a common rallying cry of "Black Lives Matter," "Blue Lives Matter" or "All Lives Matter," how can all parties come away satisfied with a solution to the issue of trust in the police? Nevertheless, such a universally satisfactory policy may be hidden in plain sight: mandatory body cameras for police officers.
The advantages of these cameras are numerous and diverse. From a fiscal perspective, they could save the government (and taxpayers) money from costly potential lawsuits. From a transparency perspective, they could ease the concerns of police-skeptical citizens and potentially prevent instances of police brutality.
And from a law enforcement perspective, they could protect officers against false accusations. In fact, a recent survey of police officers found that 85 percent believed body cameras would reduce false claims of police misconduct.
Trial programs of the technology have proven popular and become widespread. One late 2015 study found that 19 percent of U.S. police departments already have fully operational body camera programs, with another 77 percent either in the middle of a trial program or planning to implement a program. After using the technology for an extended period, one officer in Winslow, Maine remarked, "It would be hard for me to move to a department that didn't have body cameras."
The issue of how to regulate the body cameras, however, has yet to be completely resolved. When the Seattle Police Department sought city funds for their body camera program, the ACLU of Washington opposed their efforts, stating that the SPD's program valued prosecution over accountability.
Both activists and officers have expressed a great deal of concern regarding when the cameras would be turned on and off. Would the cameras be used to view officers' minor, daily interactions under a microscope? Could the cameras be used to infringe upon the privacy of civilians?
Even the body cameras' main selling point — to capture evidence of severe police brutality — has been questioned. As Time magazine notes, video footage does not guarantee a conviction, as the acquittals in the Rodney King case attest.
Mandatory body cameras, then, cannot be considered a perfect solution. Their rapid proliferation and widespread popularity, though, suggest that they may soon become standard. Their implementation may assuage tensions, but questions of regulation must be satisfied to ensure that they are used as properly and effectively as possible.
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