In the new generation of police visibility, the ones under the microscope must look at a means to defend themselves from the implications social media can have over an interaction with the public. To combat police abuse of power and false claims against them, some organizations have implemented body cameras to be worn during an officer’s shift, and record interactions with the public. This specialized technology marks the second of its kind after the police dashboard cams were introduced. Body camera technology provides the public with an accountability reform for police officers who step out of line, but also allows the officer to have concrete backup in demanding situations.
Tazer, a company that produces stun guns also developed a new age camera called the Axon Flex. This camera allows for what they call a “full shift buffer” meaning this camera allows for a full 12+ hours of recording. Tazer also offers a secure data store network that can be used to safely store any evidence that needs to be protected. General cost of the cameras is $599 and $15 dollars a month for their secure data storage. Usually attached the lapel of an officer the Axon Flex is also designed to be fixed to a pair of glasses, and both large and smaller utility belts. While Tazer is not the only company that makes this sort of device they are currently the only ones offering a wide angle view. This wide angle view is advertised as being able to capture more than any other camera out there.
The purpose of these body cameras is to improve transparency while also being able to hold both parties accountable for their actions. For body cameras to have the greatest impact is to make sure that police are not able to “edit on the fly”. Meaning that the officer is not able to chose when to record and when not to (Stanley, 2013). (Stanley, 2013) says, “If police are free to turn the cameras on and off as they please, the cameras’ role in providing a check and balance against police power will shrink and they will no longer become a net benefit.” Also, police must insure that these devices do not impinge on a person’s right to privacy. This means a few things such as, the police must inform the person’s they are recording that they are in fact doing so, they must not record in a home unless it is an emergency, and recordings must be accessible to all parities pending an investigation. (Jones, 2015).
In this new age of media frenzied individuals it only seems fit that police must evolve their tactics to fit the needs of the world today. Police abuse of power has long been talked about, but with no actual evidence against them the word of an officer is held in high regard compared to that of a civilian during any formal complaint. Certain events such as that of Rodney King, Robert Dziekanski, and the death in Ian Tomlinson at the G20 summit in London have been just a few circumstances that have put the police on blast in the media. (Goldsmith, 2010) talks about how the Rodney King incident was the first of its kind to shock the world with police brutality in an “unpredicted manner”. Because of this explosion in social media and almost everything being recorded, police are virtually forced into the need for body cameras. Police body cameras not only help to defend the public, but also aid the officer.
In early December President Barack Obama announced that he will be funding $263 million dollars for police worn body cameras. This means they would be able to purchase ~50,000 cameras for officers. The president of the United States is not the only body who feels the need for police body cameras is high. Civil liberty organizations such as Advocates for people with addictions and mental illnesses and even the Ottawa Police Association feel that body-worn cameras will boost transparency by forcing police officers to be more self-aware about using force against vulnerable individuals. The most common thought reported about the videos of police reported to Youtube is that “those videos do not tell the full story” (CBC, 2012). If more police worn body cameras were introduced this would help reduce the rate of frivolous complaints.
On the other side of the coin we must consider the negative implications body cameras can create. Having your every move and every word you say recorded can be very stressful on and individual, especially when your job is one of the hardest there is. Some potential drawbacks officers discussed are that it could harm their work production. Because many officers deal with confidential informants they are worried that with a body camera recording, these people will not want to engage with the officers anymore, and in turn this will reduce productivity (Lopez, 2015). Another problem police officers see with this is the “big brother” effect. This is caused because the officers feel they are always being watched. Officers are worried that the footage may be used against them in terms of “petty or political problems” (Lopez, 2015). With that being said about the officers the everyday public also has some concerns of their own. Some are worried that they are going to have their privacy impinged upon. This would include being filmed every second that an officer is around. To take that point further when an officer arrives at your home which is a public place they are worried about being recorded in what is your own private space (Stanley, 2013). All of these are valid points which need to be controlled for with some serious policy negotiation.
In my personal opinion I believe police worn body cameras can be a positive for everyone if they are implemented properly. They have the potential to reduce use of force complaints and offer a visual to go with a story. Body cameras will give a clearer picture if used properly and can even (fingers crossed) help mold a better reputation in the public’s eye of these organizations. To combat some of the officers concerns with the camera being on continuously we need to allow them the control to know when to activate the device. We trust these men and women to protect and serve our cities, so why not trust them to turn on a camera? In the future I believe the body camera will become as much a part of the utility belt as a pair of handcuffs is today. Cameras also offering a higher accountability reform for police officers. If they know they are being recorded they are more likely to act by the book and stick to policies.
With technology changing every day, so must the police. Body cameras are a possible solution to numerous problems, and like anything they have a set of issues them self. These may not be the solution to everything but they are a start in the right direction. Offering better transparency and a higher form of accountability in terms of abuse of power, body cameras have many benefits. It’s not a question of if cameras will be implemented, but when.
CBC. (2012, January 12). Police union wants video cameras for officers. Retrieved from CBC News: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/police-union-wants-video-cameras-for-officers-1.1169024
Goldsmith, A. J. (2010). Policings New Visibility. Brit. J. Criminol , 914-934.
Jones, S. (2015, January 21). Proposed legislation aims to regulate use of police body cameras in Virginia. Retrieved from CBS6: http://wtvr.com/2015/01/21/proposed-legislation-aims-to-regulate-use-of-police-body-cameras-in-virginia/
Lopez, G. (2015, January 13). Why police should wear body cameras — and why they shouldn’t. Retrieved from Vox: http://www.vox.com/2014/9/17/6113045/police-worn-body-cameras-explained
Stanley, J. (2013, October). Police Body-Mounted Cameras:. 1-6.