Why Body Cameras Are and Aren’t the Answer


The success of body cameras in pilot programs is promising. In some studies, use of force by law enforcement dropped 88% after the implementation of body cameras. Incidences of physical contact initiated by officers almost entirely disappeared, meaning force was only used by officers once the subject initiated the assault. Body cameras also make cops, nicer? Complains against officers for rudeness dropped 50-75% in various studies from Reno to Chicago. It is undeniable that officers act differently when they know that they’re being watched. The problem is, they don’t want to be watched, they don’t want to change how they act. Time after time, police officers involved in shootings ‘forgot’ to activate their cameras or somehow lost the footage or that the camera fell off during a foot pursuit. Other times, departments refuse to make the videos of police shootings public because they conflict with the narrative the department has told about the shooting. Illinois House Bill 972 blocks the release of body camera and dash-cam video without a court order, because police footage may “’mislead and misinform’ the public, because nothing says misinformation like full transparency.” While body cameras have the potential to make policing accountable, the technology has to actually be used as it is intended. The aforementioned excuses are frankly insufficient, they show a massive amount of disrespect for the citizens these cops serve, and threaten the trust between communities and officers. If police officers and departments get to control the systems being used to hold them accountable that is a subversion of justice. Think about it this way, bank robbers don’t control the surveillance systems at Wells Fargo, so why would cops get the privilege to decide when they’re being watched and when they aren’t. That doesn’t fix the problem, it complicates it. To be effective, body cameras need to be continuously recording, they need to be a part of the public record, and police organizations need to be more interested in justice and truth than protecting their officers from public disapproval. If an officer breaks the law in how they apply the use of force, it is the department’s responsibility to investigate it, not to produce a false narrative and hide the truth from the public. So body cameras can surely be a piece of the puzzle for a more accountable police force, but the bigger question is how do we stop police organizations from lying to the public? Cops, regardless of what police unions would like you to believe, are not above the law and can be persecuted for their actions just like everybody else. We must make it clear that cops cannot abuse their power. Shootings at the hands of officers are a daily occurrence and that is undeniably wrong. Consistent, unbiased prosecution of officers who have overstepped their bounds is absolutely necessary for policing in America to become the protective, non-violent entity it is sworn to be. An unbiased justice system that sees murder by police as the same degree of crime as murder by anyone else is the true answer, not body cameras. Real change comes when people start thinking differently, technology just helps get the ball rolling.




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