Justice Department To Spend $20 Million On Police Body Cameras

The Justice Department will soon launch a $20 million program to provide police forces with body cameras and training. The cameras have become a popular policy idea for combating police maleficence, in part thanks to a program in Rialto, California, that reduced complaints by 88 percent and officers' use of force by 60 percent. Nevertheless, issues like public access and privacy are still a problem.

Newly appointed Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the new program.

"Body-worn cameras hold tremendous promise for enhancing transparency, promoting accountability, and advancing public safety for law enforcement officers and the communities they serve. This body-worn camera pilot program is a vital part of the Justice Department's comprehensive efforts to equip law enforcement agencies throughout the country with the tools, support, and training they need to tackle the 21st century challenges we face."
The pilot program will target 50 police agencies, with about one-third of the funds going to small agencies, according to CNN. One million dollars will go to statistical studies on the body cameras' effectiveness.

The Washington Post reports that departments must have body camera policies in place before receiving funds, and the money will not be spent on costly data storage -- another obstacle to the program. Still, as the Justice Department pointed out, body cameras have already made a positive impact on policing.

Police body cameras are nothing new. The Guardian explained that programs have been in place since 2006, but after the riots in Baltimore and the police killings of Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and others, they're gaining a foothold with the federal government.

Hillary Clinton even recently endorsed the idea on the campaign trail. Likewise, they're one policy solution that police unions don't completely oppose, according to the Daily Beast.

The model for body camera use comes from Rialto, California, near San Bernardino. The city pioneered police body cameras as a means of increasing public trust and reducing excessive use of force from its officers. All 70 uniformed officers received the small oblong devices, and the success was radical (as mentioned above).

Most importantly, the results were studied, verified, and sent across the country.

Still, the details are a bit murky. When will police footage be released to the public? When must officers turn on their cameras? And when do privacy issues come into play?

One police body camera bill in Florida would have prohibited the release of footage in cases where the police are inside someone's home, someone is under 14 (or under 18 if the footage is shot in a school), shows information from emergency scenes, describes events on property used by social service or medical agencies, or any other place where some degree of privacy is expected.

The ACLU claimed that bill's exceptions went too far for the law to be effective and opposed it. The civil rights advocacy concedes that body cameras come between two priorities, maintaining peoples' right to privacy and fighting police abuse.

"Although we at the ACLU generally take a dim view of the proliferation of surveillance cameras in American life, police on-body cameras are different because of their potential to serve as a check against the abuse of power by police officers."
The Justice Department also recently released a policy recommendation paper for law enforcement agencies, which ironically did not directly endorse body cameras.

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