The Pros and Cons of Police Body Cameras [Updated]

.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 recording the situation may have helped in cases like Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, or George Floyd.

While the issue may seem simple, it is not always.  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?

One study of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C. — one of the most extensive, most rigorous reviews of its kind — found those body cameras had no significant impact on officer use of force, on civilian complaints, on whether a case was prosecuted and other outcomes. Another study of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department found that body cameras reduced the use of force and civilian complaints only modestly.

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.

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 include 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 adverse effects, there is another side. The cameras need to be on, and the video needs to be stored appropriately for the footage to be useful.

The ACLU and others worry camera footage might be used for inappropriate surveillance, not protecting the public.

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?

There are high costs associated with storing the video footage recorded by the cameras, which can be about $15 to $99 per officer per month.

Lastly, they may not be needed. Bystander video, not body camera footage, brought widespread attention to George Floyd’s death and eventually resulted in protests across the country. A cell phone captured New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo holding Eric Garner in a chokehold.

New Policies

If police are required to wear body cameras, there needs to be 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 record anyone secretly.
  • Officers should be able to turn the cameras off during their downtime.
  • Audits of the recordings should be used primarily as a training tool.
  • Officers should be able to view their recordings 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.

Other Uses for Body Cameras

Businesses and municipal services— including fire departments, emergency medical technicians, private security firms, department stores, and construction crews — have turned increasingly to body-worn devices from a plethora of manufacturers to monitor employees for training, safety, and behavioral purposes.

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.