In the United States, there has been a major increase in conflict between law enforcement and communities. Incidents such as the fatal shootings of Stephon Clark in Sacramento and Philando Castile has brought up major protests in many cities. Some shootings are still filled with questions, with authorities still unsure of the events that led to those fatal moments.
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Was the shooting intentional? Was there a reason to use deadly force? The answer to these questions can be found with the use of body cameras in police departments. The cameras will help with increasing the safety of the public and police, improving police accountability and fake accusations, and provide fantastic realistic training tools for officers of all ranks to utilize.
When officers are aware of being filmed during every action and movement they make, it can encourage better behavior. This is the same for the public, too. Since individuals know they are being filmed and cannot get away with anything nefarious, they may peacefully comply. This greatly increases the safety of the public and the police and is leading to a decrease in the attacks and the use of force by officers. The first city to use body cameras in Rialto, CA, found an overall of 50% reduction in the total number of use of force incidents when a body camera was being worn (Police), and civilian complaints against the police went down by 60% (Scheindlin). With the continuous use of these cameras around the country, it strengthens the trust between citizens and officers and will continue to lower civilian complaints and use of force incidents.
With the increasing influence of social media, photos and videos of incidents can go viral within minutes. The 2014 filmed shooting of Michael Brown and the protests that followed opened the debate of police violence (Stanley). Body cameras can be used to improve police accountability and protect officers from false accusations of misconduct. The body cameras provide visual and audio evidence that can identify exactly what happened in any given situation. Instances where officers are accused, can simply be solved by looking at the officer’s body camera footage to find out the true story. In Baltimore, Maryland, a police officer was suspended and two of his colleagues were placed on leave after they were caught on their body cameras planting fake evidence (Police). The cameras can also help officers who are falsely accused. In San Diego, California, the use of body cameras provided the necessary evidence to exonerate officers wrongly accused of misconduct- the number of severe misconduct allegations proven false increased by 2.4%, and the number of officers exonerated for less severe allegations (such as courtesy, procedure, and service) also increased by 6.5% (Police).
Police departments around the country are continuously trying to find more effective ways to get more realistic training to better prepare their officers for encounters in the field. These cameras can provide good tools for officers in learning how to react in difficult encounters with the public. The Miami Police Department has been using this training since 2012, and police major Ian Moffitt states we (superior officers) can record a situation, a scenario in training, and then go back and look at it and show the student, the recruit, the officer what they did good, what they did bad, and what they can improve on (Police). With officers using these specific training techniques, the department can now take a more realistic approach to training, preparing officers with real situations and arming them to take the proper precautions to take to make sure that they return home safely at the end of their shift.
Although body cameras are meant for the safety of the public and officers, there are some unintended side effects. For example, officers entering residences can bring up privacy concerns. To combat these privacy issues, there should be strictly regulated rules for officers and departments to follow. Officers should not be allowed to pick and choose when their cameras can be on (Street). If officers are allowed to do this, then the purpose of body cameras providing a check and balance against police power will shrink, and will eventually disappear.
A second option is to form strict regulations and requirements for officers. One requirement is those body cameras should be generally limited to uniformed police officers and marked vehicles (Stanley), so people are aware and know what to expect. Some exceptions can be made for nonuniformed officers involved in SWAT raids, in other planned enforcement actions, and uses of force.
Officers should also be required, whenever practicable, to notify individuals that they are being recorded (Stanley). There could also be a signal of when the camera is being recorded, such as a bright blinking red light which is usually regulated with cameras, or an indication on the officer’s vest showing when the cameras are on. Recording in homes can be sensitive, so officers should be required to provide a clear notice of it when entering a home, except in emergencies and raids (Stanley). Citizens who request for the camera to be turned off should be recorded to document the requests. Cameras should under no circumstances be turned off in SWAT raids and similar police actions.
Policies that are put into place should require that an officer activate his/her camera when responding to a call for service or at the initiation of any other law enforcement or investigative encounter between a police officer and a member of the public (Stanley). While some police departments have policies that protect vulnerable people from being recorded without their consent, some only offer vague information on personal privacy issues, and some don’t even inform the public at all, leading to constant debate and scrutiny of police body cameras.
Different counties, towns, and cities of America also might not be willing to take the tax increase in order to have these cameras put into their departments. To equip the Bakersfield, California Police Department (which is a force of 200 officers), it would cost $440,000 in the first year and $240,000 in subsequent years (Police). Data storages for the footage cost even more a month for departments. For future uses, applications are being developed to cut costs for data storages in half. Cloud usage is a reliable and cheaper way of storage and is also a more secure way to keep data than discs and flash drives. Cloud also doesn’t require more staff to monitor the data, it can be securely kept with high-security passwords and firewalls.
As technology continues to advance and help people with their everyday lives, integrating them into current issues will tremendously help the relationship between the community and police. Using police body cameras will help mend the crippling relationship and will allow the public to have more trust in law enforcement across the country, leading to safer communities.
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