New Visibility of Policing: Body Cameras

Posted: February 12, 2015 by gurpcaf in Uncategorized

          Ever since the proliferation of smart phones with video cameras, and the ability to share those videos with the world in an instant, we have seen images of police brutality, wrongdoing, and use of excessive force. This has magnified the scrutiny on how police officers conduct their everyday duties. At the same time, police agencies can also use this new visibility to their advantage. For example, the 2011 Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver. However, the newest technology being made available to the police are body cameras, similar to GoPro cameras and these capture the police saving lives and doing the right thing.

Body cameras are small devices that have a variation of designs. Most are wearable on the uniform, on either the shoulder or torso area of an officer. Others are attached to ballistic goggles or just strapped to the ear. These cameras feature a wider angle than average cell phone cameras to capture virtually everything going on in an officer’s proximity (TASER International, 2015). Durability, low-light recording, and a 12 hour battery life are other key features of body cameras. One of the biggest questions surrounding body cameras is the handling of the hours of video data. TASER provides a service that automatically uploads and saves the videos to a server, with of course, a fee. In addition, there is also the capability to plug into a computer and save manually. However, there are still many questions surrounding body cameras.

The companies producing body cameras do not specify if the recording process can be controlled by an officer. Nevertheless, there was an incident where a Daytona Beach police officer turned off his body camera during an arrest where a woman was sent to hospital after the officer shoved his flashlight in her mouth (Agorist, 2014). If turning the camera off is a possibility, it is a cause for concern for body camera advocates. Furthermore, if officers can go through the camera’s footage by simply plugging it in to a computer, it may also be possible to delete and remove certain video recordings.

Economically, police agencies will need a large pool of money to implement body cameras. Each camera sells from a range of $300 to $700 plus the cost of using the manufacturer’s uploading server (TASER International, 2015). Debates in Baltimore over body cameras had “city officials estimate costs up to $2.6 million a year for storage and the extra staff needed to manage the video data” (Bakst, 2015). From a financial standpoint, the more video data that is uploaded drives costs higher, so maybe officers should be able to turn off the camera during meaningless downtime. However, the possibility of unethical practices may still exist. “In Berkeley, California, the city manager warned in a memo in January of likely costs of at least $45,000 a year for storing data from 150 cameras and assigning one or two employees. In addition, officers might spend 30 minutes per shift handling the video — the equivalent annual time of five full-time officers” (Bakst, 2015). There are some police departments considering cutting personnel to be able to afford the implementation of body cameras.

The general public seems to be in favour of body cameras. “The BrickHouse Security survey found more than 72 percent of respondents support body cameras” (Lopez, 2015). Personally, I believe body cameras will have a massive effect on how police accountability and professionalism, and it will also positively impact the behaviour of the public during police interactions. The body camera phenomenon will have a similar impression to that of the dashboard cameras, but to an even larger degree. “A 2002 survey of police officers suggested as many as 93 percent of misconduct investigations with dashboard camera evidence exonerated officers” (Lopez, 2015).

The police, on the other hand, seem to have “an anti-camera atmosphere” (Lopez, 2015). Police spokespersons say body cameras could affect an officer’s day-to-day work. For example, a confidential informant may be hesitant to speak to a police officer knowing he or she is being recorded on video (Lopez, 2015). Another concern for police officers is that they could get into trouble for minor or political problems. For instance, two officers may be making a workplace joke like any other workplace, but it may be different from what the public expects (Lopez, 2015).

All in all, the debate surrounding body cameras is ongoing and very controversial. I agree it gives the police an upper hand on brutality incidents because they can have video evidence of the entire encounter, rather than a witness’ smart phone video that only captured that one extra punch or kick. Nevertheless, there will have to be policies, rules, and regulations set by police agencies on the use of body cameras. Not to mention, the economic costs associated with them.

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Comments
  1. Mike Larsen says:

    You propose that “ All in all, the debate surrounding body cameras is ongoing and very controversial. I agree it gives the police an upper hand on brutality incidents because they can have video evidence of the entire encounter, rather than a witness’ smart phone video that only captured that one extra punch or kick.”

    Question: Should the police have the ‘upper hand’ in relation to allegations of police brutality, and should this be the objective when introducing body camera technology? Or, should the purpose of body cameras be to ensure that a reliable record of an event exists, in order to facilitate justice?