POLICE BODY CAMERAS: a go or no?

Posted: February 12, 2015 by cclal5 in Uncategorized

 Police body cameras are “clipped to officer’s uniforms” (Stanley, 2013) that record the day to day activities which serves many benefits, but are also controversial. Although the video content “might not resolve every dispute” (Stastna, 2014, pg. 1), it can aid in accountability, “help settle arguments, and investigators from having to rely solely on police testimony”, says Bibring, but still has troubles with privacy issues. Even though the topic of police body cameras is new, there is still a good amount of evidence on the benefits, what the costs will be like if it follows through with the proper policies, and the implications around this area. Body cameras has been a big topic, since there has been a widespread of protests over police shootings and is still an open question whether it can change police and public interactions. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) endorsed the usage of body cameras to promote police accountability, but with only the proper policies in place for privacy issues and how the recordings are used. In a randomized trial in Rialto, California, the study introduced body cameras to fifty officers and within a twelve month span there was a “sixty per cent drop in use-of-force incidents (Stastna, 2014, pg. 2) along with an “eighty-eight per cent drop in citizen complaints about police behavior.” (Stastna, 2014, pg. 2)

one version of a police body camera

one version of a police body camera

a second version of a police body camera

a second version of a police body camera

There can be a vast amount of benefits surrounding police body cameras like “[providing] the public with crucial information about how [the] police operate” as Peter Bibring stated in a blog post on the ACLU website and according to Whitaker and Farson (2009) the elements of accountability is the obligation to inform, requirement to justify and explain and the capacity for sanctioning. Police body cameras have the benefits of holding the police accountable to their actions and also protecting police officers who are “falsely [accused] of abuse or unprofessional behavior” as Jay Stanley (2013) of ACLU states along with any other wrongdoings. Another upside of the body cameras is that it can “[capture] video recordings of critical incidents and encounters with the public, [strengthen] police accountability and [provide] a valuable new type of evidence” (Miller, Lindsay, Jessica Toliver, and Police Executive Research Forum, 2014) which can also sometimes outweigh potential drawbacks.

The downside of police body cameras is that it can violate the privacy of the public along with police officers also. It could harm an officer’s day-to-day work such as informants since if informants see police officer with cameras, they might be hesitant to speak to one due to confidentiality issues. Police officers with working body cameras can be held liable if the camera is not turned on, which can bring up questions if that officer is hiding evidence of a crime or not. Even when the body cameras are turned on, different people may see the same situation, but in different ways which can give off multiple scenarios on situations which either can be helpful or not helpful at all. Although the use of body cameras can also be a “physical reminder to crime victims that they are on camera at times when they are most vulnerable and in need of privacy” (Stastna, 2014, pg. 4) According to ACLU (2014), there are still concerns about the potential for invasions of privacy in certain situations such as entering homes, “[encountering] bystanders, suspects and victims in a wide variety of sometimes stressful and extreme situations” (Stanley, 2013, pg. 1) It may also become a “back door for any kind of systematic surveillance or tracking of the public.” (Stastna, 2014, pg. 4) If the police can turn “on and off the camera as they please” (Stanley, 2013, pg. 2) this beats the purpose of body cameras and will no longer be a benefiting role. Continuous recording of an officer can pose as “stressful and oppressive in situations” (Stanley, 2013) as it would be for anyone who is being constantly recording by their supervisor or boss. Police body cameras serves more of a potential to invade someone’s privacy since police officers enter “people’s homes and encounter bystanders, suspects, and victims” (Stanley, 2013) in either a variety of stressful and extreme situations. The leveraging effect of secondary visibility gives the public the capability to record and upload police and civilian interactions to social media sites such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook by a smart phone at the tips of their fingers. This has created an environment in which the public has a much better visibility of the police and their actions. One prime example of this is the Rodney King incident where we can what “technology can do to expose questionable policing practises” (Goldsmith, 2010) since the news broadcast their services twenty-four houses a day, it is likely the incident will become mainstream in a matter of hours. This can sometimes put police and their political masters into “fabricating or denying wrongful actions that police have done” (Goldsmith, 2010) which is unacceptable.

being recorded with your every move has no privacy at all

being recorded with your every move has no privacy at all

There are some limitations concerning police body cameras on the basis of the battery life, right policies and being able, or unable to push the button to record and limitations of the recordings. The battery life of cameras can either last “as little as two hours” (Lopez, 2015) or up to four hours maybe depending on the circumstances of what kind of camera is being used and what kind of batteries are being used. When trying to conserve the battery life, officers might need to “charge the cameras in their cars and only turn them on right before [encounters]” (Lopez, 2015) or take other actions that may not always be reliable in emergency situations.

The right policies are mandatory to be intact to make sure the technology is not “misused by police supervisors against whistle-blowers or union activists” (Stanley, 2013, pg. 2) and so that the cameras are continuously recording since the recordings could “create the danger that they could be manipulated by some officers” (Stanley, 2013, pg. 2) for detecting police misconduct. For example, during recordings, some parts can go ‘mysteriously missing’ if the officers can turn on and off the cameras so a “department-wide policy that mandates that police turn on recording during every interaction with the public” (Stanley, 2013, pg. 3) is very vital. These policies must be clear ones so that the “benefits of the technology are not outweighed by invasions of privacy” (Stanley, 2013, pg. 3) like the recordings are limited to uniformed officers only with marked cars so people know that they are being recorded. Officers are required to notify people when they are being recorded and the recordings should not be used for gathering “intelligence information based on the First Amendment Act” (Stanley, 2013, pg. 4). There should be policies where officers need to ask residents of homes if they want to be recorded and if they choose not to, a recorded of them saying so is needed.

Unable to push the button to record evidence can be “evidence against [officers] that they did something wrong” (Lopez, 2015) and depending on the certain situations if the officer can push the button in time or not. There are also limitations of what is being recorded and for how long. According to Stanley (2013, pg. 4), the data recorded should only be kept for no longer than necessary, since there is no reason to preserve the video evidence and the police force department must have a website outlining the policies so those who have encounters with the police know what to do and when to file complaints and request access to footage. If good policies and practices do not become standard or the technology has negative side effects have failed, then we must re-evaluate positions on body cameras.

Some case studies that could have benefited their story by police wearing body cameras are the cases of Naverone Woods, Robert Dziekanski, Eric Garner and Mike Brown along with many more. Mr. Woods was shot by transit police because he was “demanding a knife from a nearby convenience store” (Kane, 2014). Since he was noted as ‘distraught’, it brings up questions if he was dealing with mental health issues which is a very serious disease that many people suffer from today. In the Robert Dziekanski case, his death was ruled a homicide which was a death “caused by the actions of another person; it does not imply any blame” (Canadian Press, 2013). He was tasered several times that was recorded by a bystander and the evidence was tampered with by the Mounties who confronted Robert Dziekanski. In the highly noted case of Eric Garner, this father was killed at the hands of a police officer after being placed in an illegal choke-hold after repeatedly screaming ‘I CAN’T BREATHE’. Lastly, the young eighteen year old Mike Brown was shot about six times by officer Darren Wilson where there are several different sides to what actually happened. I have choose these four specific cases because they were highly publicized, and if the proper training and cameras were in place, maybe the lives of these men could have been saved. Some questions to be brought up here is, was it necessary for the transit police to shoot Mr. Woods? Was there any motives for Mr. Woods to initiate an attack on the transit police or could have the transit police negotiated with him to resolve the problem? If the police were in fact wearing body cameras, we as the public along with the victim’s families and the police force could have seen what actually took place and to see how the police handled the situation. We could have got a better sense of the actions of the Mounties who tasered Mr. Dziekanski and what could have been done to save his life rather than tasering him to his death. Although with the necessary video footage, it angers me that police officers can still get away with the death of innocent people. With police body cameras, we could see if there were any wrongful actions on behalf of the officer involved or the victim and without the video recordings some of these cases would not have got the publicity it needed to get a proper trial like the Robert Dziekanski case. It is evident here that video evidence is not an automatic source of accountability.

Naverone Woods

Naverone Woods

The costs of these police body cameras varies depending on the region and the department of the police force. The biggest cost and concern is the storage of the data generated by the cameras. On an estimate, an officer will “generate three gigabytes of data per shift” (Huang, 2014) which calculates between “$256,000 and $2.5 million of storage costs” (Huang, 2014) depending if cloud storage is being used or dedicated servers. The cost of storing the recordings are different from the actual cameras itself. The cost of cameras can range from “$350 to $1,5000 per unit” (Huang, 2014) and it is estimated that an average police force needs about 190 cameras along with extra costs like “docking stations, mounting devices, USB connectors and other gadgets” (Huang, 2014). Although not enough research has been done on this project, the costs of these police body cameras are just estimates, but we can see it will be a very expensive project if it does follow through with a green light. Touching base on Jean-Paul Brodeur, he talks about specialized agents that focus on technological resources who are now working in the body camera area. Although staff are needed to operate body cameras, “some of these private firms are able to provide various kinds of surveillance technology” (Brodeur, 2010) while other firms can only provide technology. These firms have formed a special part of the technological industry and are “embedded in larger corporations” (Brodeur, 2010) that are also provided with different kinds of equipment, and weapons. Not only have they found themselves a job on body cameras, but they also have done work on imaging technology for airport security along with post 9/11 context.

stock-footage-three-green-dollar-signs-spinning

The on-going debate on the police body cameras comes from “[preventing the manipulation of the video and invasion of privacy, what times should the camera be recording, should [the camera] ever be turned off and in what situations should a camera even be used?” (Brooks, 2014) along the access to these footages that have been recorded. If headquarters use taxpayers’ dollars to fund these cameras, then they can “own rights to accessing [the] footage at all times” (Brooks, 2014), but due to privacy concerns, these departments may or may not release the footage at all.

Control over the recording processes is most important due to the fact that if officers can ‘edit on the fly’ in which they can “choose which encounters to record with limitless discretion if they have the will to turn the camera on and off as they please” (Stanley, 2013). The camera’s role as a check and balance against police officers will no longer serve the benefit of holding officers accountable to their actions. According to Stanley (2013), body cameras should be continuous recording throughout a police officer’s shift which eliminates any possibility that an officer could evade the recording of any abuses committed on duty. Recordings are limited to instances, such as “SWAT raids, marked vehicles and uniformed officers” (Stanley, 2013) where they must “notify people that they are being recorded” (Stanley, 2013) and the cameras cannot be used to secretly gather “intelligence information based on [the] First Amendment protected speech, associations, or religion” (Stanley, 2013).

The people who ultimately have access to these recordings are those who have been recorded by cop cameras personally. These people who have in fact been recorded have the “right to make copies of those recordings for however long the government maintains copies on them” (Stanley, 2013). The proper policies should be posted to the online website of that police department so that individuals who have encounters with the police know how long to file a complaint or to request access to their footage. Close attention is vital to the systems that handle the video data that comes from these camera. These systems “ensure that segments of [the] video cannot be destroyed (Stanley, 2013) like a recent case in Maryland where “officers accused of beating a student disappeared” (Stanley, 2013). These recordings must also have immutable audit logs, data retention and destruction schedules that are properly maintained. There is absolute no reason to keep the recordings of the cameras unless it is used for “internal and external investigations of misconduct and where police have reasonable suspicion that a recording contains of a crime” (Stanley, 2013) and should be retained no longer than the necessary purpose as to why it was collected in the first place. Retention periods last in weeks, not years, but if the video has been flagged, it would then switch to a “longer retention schedule” (Stanley, 2013) since the flagging occurs in cases such as use of force, leads to arrest, or where either a formal or informal complaint has been made.

My own opinion on police body cameras is that officers should start to wear body cameras to create a greater accountability for themselves and the communities they take part in. I am one hundred percent for body cameras because officers should be recorded continuously on duty regardless of what they are doing. I feel like if officers do not want to be recorded they are posing as they are hiding something from what they should not be doing regardless if they are not even hiding anything. Police officers should take their work as a serious occupation with the highest level of honesty, and integrity that they may have since the police is expected to follow the law and meet the public’s expectations of proper conduct. These cameras can ultimately make any situation from intense to calm, can also de-escalate aggression along with reducing the use of force during police and civilian interactions. Even though there has been little information or research done on this specific topic, police departments are adopting the police body cameras as a positive note since they think it will benefit them and not be a negative strategy. The only downside that I have with the body cameras is the privacy issues of bystanders and home invasions unless the required notifications are taken in consideration, I do not see why officers will not use the body cameras.

REFERENCES

Brodeur, J.P. (2010). The Police Assemblage. Retrieved February 7th, 2015, from

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Brooks, S. (2014). Police body cameras spark debate. Retrieved January 31st, 2015, from

            https://nccnews.expressions.syr.edu/public-safety/police-body-cameras-spark-debate/

Canadian Press. (2013). Dziekanski death at hands of RCMP a homicide, B.C. coroner rules.       

            Retreived January 31st, 2015, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-

            columbia/dziekanski-death-at-hands-of-rcmp-a-homicide-b-c-coroner-rules-1.1411262

Goldsmith, A. (2010) Policing’s new visibility. Retreived January 24th, 2015, from            

            http://bjc.oxfordjournals.org/content/50/5/914.full.pdf+html

Huang, Sunnie. (2014). Hamilton police to study body cameras for 1 year: body-worn camera

           program could cost police force $6M to $14M over a 5-year period. Retrieved January

           24th, 2015, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/news/hamilton-police-to-          

            study-body-cameras-for-1-year-1.2838071

Kane, Laura. (2014). Family mourns Naverone Woods, 23, killed in B.C. transit police shooting.

               Retrieved February 7th, 2015, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-        

            columbia/family-mourns-after-transit-police-slaying/article22262128/

Lopez, German. (2015). Why police should wear body cameras and why they shouldn’t.

           Retrieved February 7th, 2015 from http://www.vox.com/2014/9/17/6113045/police-worn-

            body-cameras- explained

Miller, Lindsay, Jessica Toliver, and Police Executive Research Forum. (2014). Implementing a

           Body-Worn Camera Program: Recommendations and Lessons Learned. Washington,

           DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Retreived February 1st, 2015, from

           http://www.policeforum.org/assets/docs/Free_Online_Documents/Technology/implement

            ing%20a%20body-worn%20camera%20program.pdf

Stanley, J. (2013) Police Body-Mounted Cameras: With Right Policies in Place, a Win for All.

           Retrieved February 3rd, 2015, from C:\Users\owner\Desktop\=_UTF-

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Stastna, K. (2014). Body cameras: Can they reduce confrontations with police? CBC News.

           Retreived February 7, 2015, from http://www.cbc.ca/m/touch/news/story/1.2861881         

Whitaker, R. & Farson, S. (2009). Accountability in and for National Security. Retrieved February

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Comments
  1. Mike Larsen says:

    Wow.

    This is a detailed, wide-ranging post. Your interest in this topic really comes through, and you offer the reader plenty of food for thought. Excellent work.

    Your post touches on most of the key themes driving the ‘body camera debate’. The decision to incorporate a number of case studies helps to ground this debate. Your conclusion, that “It is evident here that video evidence is not an automatic source of accountability”, is insightful and important. It touches on the overarching theme for this Spring’s course – the tension between accountability and impunity. As you say, “it angers me that police officers can still get away with the death of innocent people”. I share this sentiment.

    Your concluding paragraph incorporates a strong and persuasive argument in support of body cameras. I have a follow-up question for you in response to this argument: 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)?