Police Should Have Body Cameras

Yes

  • The police will likely be filmed anyway
  • The police will have control of their own unedited video and audio
  • It will be more difficult for antipolice activists and media to create false narratives
  • The police will behave with greater restraint if they know they are being filmed
  • Unfounded Citizen complaints will drop if they know there’s a filmed record of events
  • Video data storage costs have become very reasonable

In the age of cell phones, virtually every person has a camera; and police are likely to be filmed anytime they interact with the public, especially where force is used.  This new reality is evidenced by all of the recent cell phone videos of police activity.  When the officer creates his own video record of an interaction, he or she (and the police department) can at least have their own record, which is not subject to selective editing or other alterations that may give an incomplete and/or biased “video record” of the interaction.  In addition, eyewitness accounts of police activity are often (either intentionally or unintentionally) inaccurate or incomplete.  A video account can provide an objective account of events.  Finally, when both police and citizens know that they are being recorded, and that the police officer and department will have their own video record of an interaction, all involved will be less inclined to act improperly, disproportionately, or treat different suspects in similar circumstances differently.  This should lead to more peaceful resolutions of conflicts.  Furthermore, the cost of fitting officers with cameras, and training on their use, can be relatively modest if approached economically, especially in comparison to the cost (both monetary and societal) of dealing with inaccurate or incomplete accounts of police activity.

No

  • Cameras don’t see everything an officer sees
  • Cameras don’t provide protection for juvenile offenders, rape victims, etc.
  • The police may lose the ability to show discretion, or leniency
  • Confidential informants must be protected and will be unlikely to talk if they think they are being filmed
  • Video could be exposed to hackers, blackmailers, and FOIA requests

It is impossible for any body camera or cell phone camera to capture all aspects of an interaction; so, in a sense, they provide a misleading account of such interaction, the effect of which is compounded by the perception that video footage is “irrefutable” or “the last word.”  In addition, police officers should be able to use a certain amount of discretion in dealing with situations, and recording all interactions on video may deter officers from making judgment calls in favor of suspects.  In addition, privacy concerns are implicated by governmental recording, and the recording and storage of police interactions which could reveal personal information or be embarrassing to suspects, especially if they are later determined not to have engaged in unlawful conduct; and there is always a risk that video could be misused, leaked, hacked or otherwise exposed inappropriately.  Finally, properly outfitting officers with reliable, state of the art video recording devices, and related costs of storing and viewing such video, can be cost-prohibitive.  Many departments already operate on limited budgets and this would further strain their resources.

Posted in: Point/Counterpoint

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