Should Police Officers Wear Body Cameras?
We live in an age where technology reigns free and cameras are everywhere. Most people carry a smartphone with the ability to record events as they happen, and this footage appears frequently on the news and internet. In the field of law enforcement, a prominent debate is forming as to if police officers should wear body worn cameras so they can similarly record incidents in real time.
Many departments in the United States have adopted body cameras as standard equipment today.
In Rialto, California, a police department has been using body mounted cameras and recording what happens between officers and the public. The use of force by officers declined 60% during the first year the cameras were introduced and citizen complaints against officers dropped by 88%. See original study here.
Here’s a little bit more about how body cameras work as well as the pros and cons for using them in the field.
Understanding Police Body Cameras
Body cameras are compact and portable, and officers wear the camera throughout their shift. They are about the size of a deck of cards and can be mounted to hats, helmets, sunglasses, lapels or uniform collars.
Safety Vision’s Prima Facie body camera, for example, was rated the top choice for first responders by the Department of Homeland Security (view the report here). The camera is completely self-contained, with an integrated microphone and LCD screen for instant review.
It can record high-quality video even in low lighting conditions such as at night or a dark vehicle interior, and also provides an interface for the officer’s two-way radio.
The objective of body cameras is to deliver an accurate record of officer engagements for complete situational awareness and tamper proof digital evidence.
Police Body Camera Pros
- Complete transparency; everyone can see what transpires between officers and citizens
- Decisions made by officers in intense situations can be reviewed and evaluated
- Recorded video evidence refutes false claims against officers
- Provides valuable public relations benefits to the agency
- Video and audio recording can record victim statements and witness accounts
- Recorded video is valuable evidence that is difficult to refute in court
Police Body Camera Cons
- Civilians and police officer have concerns about privacy issues and how to deal with those concerns is still being looked at.
- If a body camera is used it can deter a person from coming forward as a witness for fear of public exposure, retaliation or another issue.
The pros clearly outweigh the cons when it comes to body cameras and their use for law enforcement agencies. With recent high profile events involving civil unrest, body cameras are being rapidly adopted not only by police officers, but other first responders as well.