Police Body Cameras Reducing misconduct & improving policing

Romany Thet

Glossary
  • Accountability: being responsible
  • Concern: having a worry or being anxious about something/someone.
  • Enforcement: a law/regulation, or carrying out an executive or judicial order.
  • Equipped: having the particular item(s) for a certain purpose
  • Incident: an event or occurrence
  • Implement: to put down a plan or decision into effect
  • Invade: entering a situation and intruding
  • Misconduct: improper or unprofessional behavior
Body-Cameras Explained
Body-worn camera system

What does the increased use of body cameras mean for American policing?

With the use of body-worn cameras for police officers increasing, Police officers will be forced to behave and as will the civilian. People who support the body cameras like Police-Chief Tony Farrar say the cameras will help improve the behaviors of the officers, with others like him supporting the cameras and giving hope that the devices will come into good use, civilians will more likely want to implement the body cameras. Many departments have implemented body cameras and According to the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology, “In 2012, use-of-force by officers wearing cameras fell by 59% and reports against officers dropped by 87% in the previous year. The findings are based on a 12-month experiment in Rialto, California on policing with BWCs”("A forceful case for police body cameras"). These studies show how the cameras have affected the behaviors of policies and the accountability of systems. These cameras may improve the behavior of law-enforcement officers and citizens Research has shown that officers who wore body cameras had a massive reduction in response of use-of-force incidents. Although people do have a right to act in self-defense, having footage to back up the event leaves and unbiased account for these developments. It has no reason to lie about anything, and It keeps track of the event as it happens. As the Columbus Dispatch states, “If a police officer acts lawfully, then he should not be wrongly accused, forced to defend himself and risk a punishment he does not deserve. The camera will provide his defense”("How Body-worn cameras help"). Overall the body-worn cameras will help with police and citizen behaviors as well as provide unbiased evidence of the events that happen. Although body cameras may reduce some misconduct and increase accountability, the cameras raise a cost concern. Greater use of body cameras is making people question, how will we pay for body cameras?

Storing data from body cameras

How much will body cameras cost for police departments and storage?

Although police body cameras will help increase liability for the officers, with the growing use of the devices, it raises a cost and storage concern. According to a city manager in Berkeley, California, "The city manager warned in a memo in January of likely costs of at least $45,000 a year for storing data from 150 cameras and assigning one or two employees. Also, officers might spend 30 minutes per shift handling the video — the equivalent annual time of five full-time officers, the memo said"("More than accountability"). Storing data comes at a very high price, especially when adding it all up in the end. Having the cameras and footage to back things up will come in great use but will take a lot of investment. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake states that, "Knowing how we didn't have a lot of wiggle room with the budget constraints we face, we couldn't afford to get it wrong, any time you do something on this scale, if you don't take the time up front, you are setting yourself up for failure and disappointment from the community”("More than accountability"). Although the body cameras will take a lot of investment and time, it is not something that should be given up on that quickly. It is something that cities need to work on for a good amount of time, with a considerable amount of effort. The body cameras have been a tough thing to implement because of data storage costs and costs for the device itself. Many cities have struggled with affording a camera for each. Costs have a significant effect on the towns and county budgets. With all of the expenses the body cameras bring to the country, the real question is, will the investment of this new technology help improve police behavior?

Body camera attached

Do police body cameras improve police behavior?

Police body cameras have a significant effect on a city or county's budget, but it also has a great effect on a police officer's behavior. Body-worn cameras show a significant difference in policing. Many people believe that while being watched, officers will behave better. According to studies done by The San Bernardino County, “When officers were wearing cameras on shifts, police use of force against suspects was 50 percent lower. Similarly, complaints against the police fell to almost zero in the 12 months after the cameras were introduced”(Sutherland). Research from the San Bernardino County shows how police body cameras can improve policing and will drop the amount of use of force incidents. Many departments are looking for a reduction in police misconduct and a decrease in complaints and charges against the suspect and cop. A Harvard criminal justice journalist states that there is, “Empirical support showing that OVCs [On-officer Video Cameras] can help departments achieve their goals will reduce the time needed for this technology to gain legitimacy. Our findings represent a preliminary step in that direction"("Do body cameras change"). Having body-worn cameras will help police departments find success in improving the behavior of their officers. It will help them reach a significant goal, as the journalist states above. Knowing from research done by many states already, the new technology has made a big difference on policing.

Will police body cameras increase police accountability?

Police body cameras is a possible solution for police misconduct. There have been many incidents where police officers were the cause of a civilian's' death. People are looking for ways to figure out all the details of why or how the citizen is killed by an officer. The Southern California branch states that "The power we give to police officers to use force, even to take human life, is extraordinary – and the public deserves to understand how that power is used, not to be told ‘just trust us." In most cases, violence caused by police officers are covered up or there is a lack of evidence and a trial doesn't happen. Body cameras help support cases by providing evidence in the domestic violence cases and more. According to Chief Ron Miller of the Topeka, “The footage shows first-hand the victim’s injuries, demeanor, and immediate reactions. Police, showing suspects in domestic violence cases the on-scene body camera footage has led to a guilty plea without going to trial.” Footage from the cameras helps show who is wrong or right. It gives proof of any misconduct coming from the suspect or victim. The body-worn cameras can capture everything the officer does and sees. The Chief of Police Jason Parker of Dalton states that “Unlike in-car cameras, body-worn cameras capture everything that happens as officers travel around the scene and interview multiple people. The body-worn cameras have been incredibly useful in accurately preserving information." Many police departments have stated that the body cameras are a positive and useful tool for them. It gives more accurate information for all cases and provides an unbiased point of view. The devices show everything that goes on between the officer and civilian throughout the incident. Although the footage from the cameras provides an unbiased support and more accurate information, the new technology comes into to conflict with privacy implications.

How will concerns with privacy policies of the new devices affect the future?

Thousands of officers at law enforcement agencies have started to wear body cameras to record the interactions they have with the public. The new technology is being put out there very fast. It is being implemented faster than departments are able to create policies for the use of the cameras. The growing use of these new devices raises privacy concerns. With the body cameras being equipped this quickly, many of the concerns that arise affects the future of the devices. Los Angeles daily news states that "Unlike dashboard cameras, body cameras follow the officer everywhere. The cameras, if they aren't turned off, can go with officers into a bathroom or locker room, or capture private conversations between partners. Footage can become evidence in a criminal case, or be used to discipline officers or exonerate them of false accusations." The cameras are rolling and worn at all times when on duty, therefore the cameras will capture anything and everything the officer does or sees. This actually helps with policing, since the officer knows they are being recorded. It also captures what a civilian does on a daily basis when an officer drives or walks past them. Equipping officers with these devices raises many issues over privacy. There are concerns of the cameras invading a person's privacy because the recordings in some states can be accessed by anyone. If there are clear policies out there for the departments, it may help with the privacy concerns. Recently the federal did a survey and according to the studies, "63 law enforcement agencies using body cameras said nearly a third of the agencies had no written policy on the devices." A lot of departments do not have any privacy policies released or written out. It's not known how many agencies are using body cameras, therefore it is harder to determine who needs to release a policy for the devices. Stanley, who is a supporter of the police body-worn cameras says, "Unfortunately, you’re seeing a lot of departments just sticking cameras on their officers without thinking through the policies very well." The non-selective release of footage from body cameras, if there is any, can have a negative effect on the victims of crime, therefore having policies written out can decrease complaints or issues with privacy. Also, police departments have started to use body cameras more and more except many do not have a clear and fully written policy. There have been police recommendations from legislators, law enforcement organizations, and civil liberty groups. However, most police departments either do not have a policy or have not released them. Overall, police departments are working on releasing privacy policies for the new devices and police body cameras have had a positive effect so far, as shown in many studies. The body-worn cameras are a useful piece of technology that is being implemented in many departments today. With these tiny cameras being equipped for officers, there will hopefully be a significant change on the policing.

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Romany Thet
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