Police Body Cameras: Weighing the Benefits, Costs, and Implications

Posted: February 12, 2015 by mikekaler in Uncategorized

Body cameras have become a controversial topic recently in ensuring police accountably. The cameras are usually placed on the front body of police officers which allow for a more first-person perspective. These body cameras differ from dash cams that are mounted on some of the police cars. These cameras allow others to see more concrete video evidence of the crime scene. It attempts to hold the police officer accountable for his/her actions. The cameras look like small pagers that clip onto the officer’s uniform and record interactions and crime scenes (Stanley, 2013). Some of these cameras last up to 12 hours. These body cameras are starting to show up across different police departments. The United Kingdom, The United States, and Canada have all started to implement these body cameras. Recently, there have been questions raised in the use of police force and accountability that has led to a nationwide debate on the use of these cameras. The death of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the death of Eric Garner have left many unhappy. Michael Brown was an African American who was killed by a white male police officer. After a jury did not indict the police officer who shot Michael Brown, the public remained outraged.  However, the United States Department of Justice has launched an investigation involving the Ferguson Police Department for the use of possible misconduct or discrimination. Furthermore, there are still many concerns with these new body cameras. These cameras do not have to record during the duration of an officer’s shift.  It is on the onus of the police officer when they think it is safe for them to start recording. The public can demand that the officers turn off these body cameras during interactions however the police officers do not have to turn them off. There are certain places where police officers cannot record. Some of these places include jails, bathrooms, change rooms, medical and psychological examinations, and certain situations involving people with mental health. For instance, once a crime scene has been recorded, information is uploaded onto an evidence database in which officers can access at any time.

New York City public advocate police body cameras

There has been an ongoing debate over the past couple months involving the use of body cameras. President Obama has stated that they are putting in approximately $75 million for the use of body cameras. About 50,000 body cameras will be distributed across the United States to various police departments. President Obama has been in favor of implementing body cameras. The American Civil Liberties Union is also in favour of this idea. Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst said that they “have the potential to be a win-win situation.” They believe that this idea goes both ways because it could also be used to protect cops who get accused of wrongdoing. Ed Mullins, a NYPD sergeant and president of the NYPD Sergeant union, was hesitant when asked about the new cameras however; he agreed that they would be beneficial to the public and the government. Mullin also discussed the fact that these cameras could interrupt the day to day aspect of a police officer. For instance, smaller, pettier problems could arise during public interactions. Furthermore, the public is 72% in favour of using body cameras on police officers (Brickhouse Security Survey). A 2014 report found that the program has been a huge success. The use of police force dropped by 60% and citizens’ complaints dropped by 88%. Goldsmith discusses the use of secondary visibility states, “People often far removed from particular settings could be made aware of policing activities and thus be able to enter into a moral assessment of those actions”. (2010: 914) Goldsmith views this shift from the viewer society into the new ‘media producer society’.

body cam results Rialto California

The use of body cameras on police officers is a great way of holing them accountable. In order to ensure accountability, these cameras show the public what the officer sees. Even though there is much controversy surrounding the topic, the positives outweigh the negatives. As time goes on, we could very well see all officers wearing these body cameras in the near future.



Lopez, G. (2015, January 13). Why police should wear body cameras – and why they shouldn’t. Retrieved February 10, 2015, from http://www.vox.com/2014/9/17/6113045/police-worn-body-cameras-explained

Police Body-Mounted Cameras: With Right Policies in Place, a Win For All. (n.d.). Retrieved February 10, 2015, from https://www.aclu.org/technology-and-liberty/police-body-mounted-cameras-right-policies-place-win-all

Press, T. (2014, December 2). Obama calls for police body cameras after Ferguson shooting. Retrieved February 9, 2015, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/obama-calls-for-police-body-cameras-after-ferguson-shooting-1.2856941

Reuters, T. (2014, September 1). Michael Brown shooting: Ferguson police to get body cameras. Retrieved February 10, 2015, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/michael-brown-shooting-ferguson-police-to-get-body-cameras-1.2752146

Stastna, K. (2014, December 5). Body cameras: Can they reduce confrontations with police? Retrieved February 8, 2015, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/body-cameras-can-they-reduce-confrontations-with-police-1.2861881

  1. Mike Larsen says:

    You note that “ However, the United States Department of Justice has launched an investigation involving the Ferguson Police Department for the use of possible misconduct or discrimination.” . Have you followed up on the results of this investigation? The US DoJ has issued a report on racialized policing in Missouri that is well worth looking at.

    I would welcome further discussion of the potential implications of the introduction of body cameras. What do you think the first five years of a body camera policy will bring?