Having a career as a police officer is challenging enough without being questioned about your actions leading up to an arrest. In the event of an officer shooting, if there are no witnesses, it is the officer’s word against the victim or victim’s family. Having a body camera operating would entail a record of exactly what happened. With recent protests over the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer it just seems logical for everyone’s peace of mind to have body cameras for police officers.
Many police departments across the country are implementing body cameras for police officers. Some are seeking help for funding from the private sector as well as Federal Grants. The cost for one of these body cameras is around $300 to $400 and depending on the size of the police department and how many officers that usually results in thousands of dollars. There are two companies right now manufacturing and selling these body cameras that are about the size of a cigarette package. They are Vievu LLC and Taser International Inc. That isn’t the only cost though because the data these cameras record has to be stored somewhere secure and that usually has a monthly service fee.
Some police officers are not so sure about the body cameras but when the dashboard cameras were implemented there was similar resistance and now they are standard on patrol cars. A Cambridge University study of the Rialto, California, Police Department showed that with the use of body cameras, the use of force by police officers declined by more than 55% and complaints by citizens against the police were reduced by more than 85%. From this study we can assume that YES, cameras worn by police officers will create trust within the community in which they serve.
There is some concern on what to do with the data, how long to keep the information stored and privacy issues. With this new technology there needs to be specific guidelines concerning what to do with the information. Can there be a violation of privacy if police are scouring videos looking for anything incriminating? Do we want the government viewing all the information recorded? There would be police searching homes and vehicles for evidence with proper search warrants but what will they do with that information?
One such police department in Wyoming has strict guidelines that after 90 days they purge the videos recorded and if an officer films something that might be of value in court they burn the recording on a DVD. Also according to policy if a citizen asks them to stop recording they are able to do so but they must submit a report for the reason that the recording was stopped. Officers won’t be able to edit or delete videos or view one another’s video. Accountability in law enforcement with body cameras will help to protect the citizens as well as the police officer.
It just makes good sense, if you knew you were being recorded at a traffic stop you would most likely act differently than if you weren’t. With police being recorded it makes them more accountable as well. Then when a situation arises that is in question there is a video with proof of what really happened. Will that make it less likely for people to riot when the truth is in question? Probably not, because there are those who will always mistrust the police, and the justice system altogether unfortunately and even a video will not stop them from acting out.
Being in law enforcement is challenging even on good days, but throw in someone who has no respect for the police and it becomes more challenging than ever. Police officers are working in some of the most dangerous parts of their communities and if wearing a body camera will help save lives then we should all be willing to have a little of our privacy invaded. A law abiding citizen should have no problem with being recorded by a body camera because they have nothing to hide. On the other hand if you are one who likes to break the law then watch out because you just might show up on a police officer video.
If working in law enforcement is something that intrigues you then you many want to look into how to become a police officer. Having a criminal justice degree may also help you get further up the ladder after you have completed your police academy training.
Author: Jackie Lautt is a law enforcement freelance writer