Body Cameras: A New Phenomenon

Posted: February 12, 2015 by sball in Uncategorized

For the content of this post, I will be discussing the use of body cameras. This is a particularly new phenomenon in policing but one that is constantly being discussed these days. Throughout the course of this post, I will be providing an insight, detailed and well-informed description of body cameras and then providing an analysis about this new occurrence.

Body cameras are video recording devices that are used to record incidents and interactions between people. They are able to catch a lot more detail than shorter clips because they have the ability to be recording for long periods of time. They are being used more and more by agencies like policing and other law enforcement agencies. In addition, even other fields like medical professionals are considering this phenomenon due to various beneficial reasons that relate mostly to accountability and following protocol. For the purpose of this post, I will use police officers as an example when I am discussing the use of body cameras and its implications. Body cameras are attached to police officers uniforms. The TASER international website, which is actually a leader in body camera sales to police agencies states, “there is no one-size-fits-all for officers. That’s why AXON body uses multiple mounting options to securely attach to the officers uniform”(TASER, 2015.) Some ways that it is able to attach are by button shirts, zipper shirts, utility belts, and uniform shirt pockets. As we can see, it is fairly easy to attach to officers uniforms and there are various ways of doing this. Below is one example of what a body camera looks like attached to a police officers shirt:

Photo Retrieved From:http://news.mst.edu/2014/12/missouri-st-police-officers-implement-body-cameras/

The intended use of police body cameras is to capture more than just short clips. With these cameras, they are able to capture evidence and even provide a better and more detailed visual story when the media or other members of the public have short clips on the same incidents. The agency is the one with control over the recorded video. They could either upload to their own local data storage system or there are specialized websites by the companies that make the body cameras that the data could be uploaded on to. Therefore, the agencies are the ones that control and have access to this data. A solid selling point for the use of body cameras would be that “such benefits outweigh the costs of adoption. In addition to claims that it helps reduce bad behavior, the system is promoted as a means to identify and publicize good behavior of exceptional officers.” (Gates, 2014, p. 9) So, it is being said that not only do these body cameras catch only the bad and negative things, they could also be used to promote the more better actions taken by officers and help raise awareness of what good policing looks like. Furthermore, it is being advertised by companies that the cost to implement these devices across the whole agencies is actually cheaper than facing lawsuits in court regarding police misconduct or brutality. Some factors that have led to the emergence of the body camera phenomenon include increasing accountability of the police officers, preventing police misconduct and being able to provide a better visual representation of the incidents that have occurred when complaints must be dealt with. Below is a picture of the popular AXON camera by TASER International:

Photo Retrieved From:http://info.taser.com/rs/taser/images/AXON%20Body%20-%20Front.png

Moving on to analysis, I will start with the different types of visibility as discussed in our policing’s new visibility lecture. Primary visibility is the understanding of the police from first hand experiences. It is from live interactions with them rather than through a secondary source. Secondary visibility on the other hand, is second hand mediated experiences. It is the experience of police encounters through sources like newspapers and other visual and narrative modes of content delivery (Goldsmith, 2010.) All this relates to the concept of account ability. Police officers testimony is highly relied on and this concept considers the ability of these police officers for example to give an account and it to be considered reliable. In my opinion, the main group that is calling for the use of body cameras as an accountability measure is the police agencies themselves. This is because in certain cases, it helps protect them and their officers. According to Missouri’s police chief Christine Laughlin, “The use of the cameras is intended to provide an accurate description of events during an incident and allow officers to accurately capture statements” (MST, 2014.) This is because since we are living in a media producer society, meaning everybody has access to some kind of recording device at their fingertips and is able to record something and put it on social media fairly easily, the police agencies need their own visual representation of the incident. As mentioned earlier, these body cameras are able to provide a more dense review of the incidents that have occurred rather than just the short clips that members of the public see. Therefore, the police have their own view of the story and are able to provide a better account of the whole incident when need be. To show you what it looks like, below is a very recent short clip from a police officer’s body camera involving a fatal shooting between an Oklahoma police officer:

Video Retrieved From:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mhAufUPitc

The media producer society decreases the account ability of police officers because there is so much media being produced and distributed (Goldsmith, 2010.) In the past, there was very little media and so the account ability of the police was never really questioned. However, now this new era that we refer to as the new visibility produces videos that act as catalysts. Meaning although they may not be the most accurate account of the incident, they trigger a more thorough investigation of the incident because the video goes viral and catches the attention of many, including police accountability bodies.

However, these body cameras also have their implications. There are issues regarding them as well. Things like employee autonomy, personal and bodily integrity, and privacy of the employees that wear them and with whom interactions occur (Gates, 2010.) All in all, in my opinion, this phenomenon is very new and at its early stages, but the use of body cameras is one that will grow even more in the coming years. I say this because as social media is growing and technology is improving rapidly, more and more videos are being produced and distributed. In order for protective measures, it is in the best interests of police agencies along with other professional occupations to adapt this policy.

Photo Retrieved From:http://freeonlinecontractor.com/dev/images/facebook-twitter-youtube.png

References: 

Gates, K. (2014). The Work of Wearing Cameras: Body-Worn Devices and Police Media Labor. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/9661574/The_Work_of_Wearing_Cameras_Body-Worn_Devices_and_Police_Media_Labor

Goldsmith, A. (2010). Policing’s New Visibility. British Journal of Criminology. 50, 914-934. doi: 10.1093/bjc/azq033

Missouri S&T News & Events. (2014). Missouri S&T police officers implement body cameras. Retrieved fromhttp://news.mst.edu/2014/12/missouri-st-police-officers-implement-body-cameras/

TASER International. (2015). What is AXON body? Retrieved from http://www.taser.com/products/on-officer-video/axon-body-on-officer-video

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Comments
  1. Mike Larsen says:

    This is a well-written and interesting post.

    Question: It has been said by some that good policing relies upon the development and practice of trust between police officers and members of the community. Do you think that the introduction of body cameras will enhance trust (by demonstrating a commitment to accountability) or erode it (by introducing a surveillance mechanism into every interaction)?