Police Body Cameras – Can They Improve Interactions Between Police And The Public?

Matt Reis - Author
By

Dec. 29 2014, Updated 3:46 a.m. ET

The need and benefits of the use of police body cameras have been under discussion for some time, influenced, in part, by the questions over possible instances of police misconduct or brutality. Given the recent and continuing impacts grand jury decisions have had in sparking extensive protests, questions related to the benefit of the issuing of body cameras to police officers are of even greater interests now.

Earlier this month, President Obama proposed spending $75 million on the body cameras. Under this proposal, state and local governments would match these expenditures. The goal would be to provide 50,000 police officers with video equipment as a beginning of a wider use of video equipment.

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Body cameras can be worn in a variety of ways, including being attached to sunglasses and hats, on lapels or clipped to the front of the chest. The camera are activated and records the interactions of police and the public to create a record of the events that occur.

However they are worn, a new research study from the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology (IoC) says that the wearing of a body camera with the knowledge that events are being recorded creates a sense of “self-awareness” in both the police and the public that are involved. The study was conducted in Rialto, California in 2012. The study found that the use-of-force was reduced by 59 percent for officers equipped with body cameras. There was additionally an 87 percent reduction in the filing of reports against officers.

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The use of body cameras would protect potential victims of police violence and would also help in situations in which witness memories or testimony are inconsistent. They can also help police officers falsely accused of wrongdoing. In October, a 23-year-old Albuquerque woman facing an arrest for drunk driving tried to accuse the arresting officer of touching her inappropriately. While using the bathroom after being taken into custody, she was overheard speaking with someone on a cell phone that she had hidden in her bra about how she might be able to get the officer in trouble. After coming out of the bathroom, she made the accusation. However, she was informed that the entire encounter had been recorded by the officer on a lapel camera. The officer was proven innocent of the accusation.

A recent report by the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that body cameras would improve police accountability, improve officer training, and document interaction with the public. It is expected that other issues will come up as police agencies begin to equip their officers with cameras, such as privacy, so that the exact circumstances under which cameras can be used will be an issue. The report recommends that body cameras be phased into police use in steps as is currently being done in the New York City Police Department.

In the end, however, it is not unreasonable to expect, and to hope, that everyone who is aware that an encounter is being videotaped will think twice before taking actions that can lead to accusations of wrongdoing on either the part of the police officer or the individual he or she is interacting with. Hopefully, this will result in a reduction of the use-of-force and the filing of reports against police officers in the future as was the case in the Rialto, California study.

[Image via the LA Times]

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