We live in an era of technology that provides access to information at the touch of a button. Our cell phones are equipped with cameras that can document anything we choose. So with all this technology at our fingertips, why aren’t more police personnel required to wear cameras?
It would seem logical that police, for investigative purposes, would want to wear cameras to document their daily encounters. Perhaps body cameras documenting the situation may have helped in cases like Ferguson or the 2014 shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio.
While the issue may seem simple, it is not always so. The use of body cameras is inherent with concerns, including how and when the video footage can be used. For example, should the video footage be made public? If so…when? Last September, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department was pressured to release body camera footage of Keith Lamont Scott’s death, following days of protest in Charlotte. Were they forced to release the footage before they wanted to in order to appease the protesters? Had body cameras not been used, would the situation have been different?
Positive Effect of Body Cameras
Every year there are complaints of police officers allegedly using their power and weapons in ways that may or may not have followed correct police procedures. There are also cases where the officers’ reports differ from the suspect’s account of what happened.
To protect both sides, video documentation can provide the answer. Requiring officers to wear cameras allows for greater transparency on the job.
Additional benefits of the use of body cameras includes better evidence collection, enhanced officer accountability, more accurate documentation of the events, improved communication between the police and the public, and the ability to use the videos as training tools for improving police performance.
Negative Effect of Body Cameras
Although it may seem like the positive effects of having the police wear body cameras outweighs any negative effects, there is another side. If the police are recording everything are they encroaching on personal privacy? Many people would say yes. What if a potential suspect does not want to be recorded? Is the recording infringing on his rights? During an arrest, police cannot turn off the camera, so the suspect will be recorded whether or not he agrees.
Another consideration is whether the police would modify their actions or whether their performance would be hindered because they know they are being recorded. Does having everything recorded cause them to act differently? And what effect do the recordings have on how the community perceives the police; for the better or worse?
If police are required to wear body cameras, there need to be clearly written policies in place. Here are some suggestions:
- Cameras should be left “continuously on” when on duty so there are no gaps in the video.
- The camera recordings are discoverable evidence and can be used by either side in a court of law.
- Cameras should never be used to secretly record anyone.
- Officers should be able to turn the cameras off during their personal down time.
- Audits of the recordings should be used primarily as a training tool.
- Officers should be able to view their recordings in order to better their performance.
- Confidential conversations about pending cases should not be recorded.
- Under no circumstances should anyone be allowed to edit the video once it is captured.
In October 2014, the City of Cleveland’s City Council passed legislation for the police department to spend $1.6 million to equip hundreds of police officers with body cameras. Currently, 73% of the entire Cleveland police force wears body cams.
How SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc. Can Help
SACS Consulting is fully aware of the pros and cons of body cameras. Please give us a call today at 330-255-1101 to learn more about ways SACS Consulting can help your police department establish proper policies regarding body cameras.