Police Body Cameras – Good or Bad?

Police body cameras are being worn by many Police Officers and Detectives throughout the country. There has been a lot of debate between Police Unions and City/County leaders. Officers find them invasive, and make it difficult to do their jobs, while Chiefs and Government officials believe cameras reduce complaints and provides transparency.

THE BENEFITS OF BODY CAMERAS

USE OF FORCE/COMPLAINTS                                                                                                                                                        Cameras improve how Cops conduct themselves while making arrests and dealing with citizens.  According to a University of Cambridge study, there has been a drop in use of force by more than a 50 percent, and complaints are down as well. These numbers reduce the amount of lawsuits filed against Cities and Counties.

OFFICER ACCOUNTABILITY                                                                                                                                                        Police accountability is a main factor when purchasing body cameras. The public has been calling for more transparency and accountability. If an Officer is unlawful or violating Departmental policy, the video evidence will verify it and the Officer will then be held accountable. The camera can also capture a subject’s actions and exonerate on Officer from accusations.

EVIDENTIARY VALUE                                                                                                                                                                     Cops are scrutinized more than any other profession.  Supervisors, Peers, Prosecutors, Defense Attorneys, Judges and jurors and at times the media, analyze how you did your job. I always felt the more evidence to support your testimony the better. Having a recording of a subject’s actions, victim/witness statements, and items of evidence only helps. The video evidence can lead to quick plea agreements, so there’s less court time.

TRAINING                                                                                                                                                                                            The cameras can be a great training source. It’s very important for Officers to critique themselves, and camera recordings can provide a great opportunity to review and improve performance.

 

THE PROBLEMS WITH BODY CAMERAS

POLICE PERFORMANCE                                                                                                                                                                    Use of Force and complaint numbers are reduced when an Officer is wearing a recording camera. That may be because there is less proactivity rather than better job performance. Cops know their every movement is recorded and may be scrutinized in fine detail.  The more active a Cop is the greater opportunity to make a mistake, and the best way to avoid one may be to do less. Cameras can also have bad consequences by making a Cop hesitate in situations that call for split second decisions.

OFFICER AND CITIZEN PRIVACY                                                                                                                                           The debate over use of cameras includes Officer and Citizen right to privacy. What if an Officer’s private conversation is recorded, or a victim is recorded in an uncompromising position? Body cameras can also reveal confidential information when records are made public. Are all recordings reviewed and necessary information or images redacted?

INFORMATION GATHERING                                                                                                                                                        Recording a conversation with someone can be considered invasive. Victims and witnesses often do not want their statements to be recorded for fear of retaliation or exposure. Good luck trying to get information from an Informant while recording them. I have interviewed hundreds of subjects. It is very important to gain their trust, but doing so as they stare at a camera on your chest is very difficult.

TECHNOLOGY                                                                                                                                                                                          It is inevitable that cameras will break or technical problems will occur. The Officer may not be aware his camera wasn’t working until the recording is requested at a much later date. These problems can lead to speculation of a cover up or impact a criminal case. There will also be problems with the storage of many hours of recordings and cyber security.

COSTS                                                                                                                                                                                                 It costs tens of thousands of dollars to implement body cameras. Purchasing cameras, storing recordings and equipment maintenance is very expensive. It requires fulltime manpower just to process requests for recordings. The storage and camera repair can be outsourced, but it’s not cheap.

 

No matter which side of the debate you are on, Police Body Cameras are here to stay. They reduce liability and the public wants them. Despite the body cameras, however, mistakes will still be made. You cannot expect perfection from an imperfect job.

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