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

Posted: February 12, 2015 by gurpreetkoonar10 in Uncategorized

Description

Body cameras, as described by their name, are small recording devices worn on one’s body (http://www.thewire.com/national/2014/08/how-do-police-body-camera-work/378940/). They consist of two components: a button which is pressed in order to activate recording; and, a small camera which can be equipped to any part of one’s body (Li, 2014). There are a number of technology firms who can provide this source of technology for police, and the economic advantage to these firms is that police accountability is on the rise. Police officers are being required to use body cameras in order to record police and citizen encounters. The purpose of such devices is to protect the police and the citizen from either inaccurate or false reporting by either party (Li, 2014). Moreover, “[body cameras] could hold police accountable for their actions and… [also] protect cops who are falsely accused of wrongdoing” (http://www.vox.com/2014/9/17/6113045/police-worn-body-cameras-explained). The devices are used to record the everyday work life of police officers, however, the officers would have control over the recording process of the cameras, which would be regulated by policies on when they would be required to start recording and “…officers will be expected to activate the devices…” when they are interacting with the public (http://o.canada.com/news/national/as-police-adopt-body-cams-question-emerges-when-to-press-record). Furthermore, if they want to turn the camera off, they will have to “…speak into the camera and explain why” (Quan, 2015). This is another arm of accountability as the officer will be required to report why a camera is being turned off if it is required to be activated by policy. Issues may arise surrounding the privacy and viewing of recordings made by these devices. Li (2014) reports that the footage data may only be viewed by police chiefs and that the data would be stored on a hard drive, in some cases, for 30 days. The control over the recorded data would be with the police department that is responsible for the recording, and therefore, it may result in more money and resources to run body cameras in a police department. For instance, there may need to be a new job position to oversee the control of the data as thousands of hours of data would be collected and also need to be arranged or deleted (Li, 2014). Issues in regards to stored data may also come up in terms of security risks and hacking of police databases to steal or alter video recordings. The information which is stored on video is sensitive and will have a major impact if it is tampered with, for instance “…a hacker…edits the data to change the identity of an assailant or leaks the footage of a victim…” (http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Passcode/Passcode-Voices/2015/0203/Opinion-Privacy-could-be-the-victim-if-police-body-cameras-aren-t-more-hack-proof).

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Analysis

Police accountability is on the rise and has increased due to incidents such as the Toronto G20 incident where the violent takedown arrest of Adam Nobody was caught on video camera. Therefore, it is not surprising that the director of the Ontario Special Investigations Unit, Ian Scott, is calling for the use of body cameras as an accountability measure (http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2013/10/10/ways_to_improve_ontarios_siu.html).Scott (2013) believes that video technology should be embraced and it is already being used in several aspects of law enforcement agencies, such as cell blocks and interview rooms. Scott (2013) states that “…video may not tell the entire story, [however] it can…be the best evidence of an incident. This technology is not only being considered in Canada, but the United States is also trying to utilize it in police forces. For example, in light of the violent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, which is due to the public not trusting the police, President Obama has announced a request for $75 million to fund body cameras for police agencies as he sees it as a technology tool which may help close the gap between the public and the police (http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/12/do-police-body-cameras-work-ferguson/383323/). Evidence has shown that when a camera is present officers and civilians act in a positive manner, and therefore, cameras strengthen accountability (Friedman, 2014). In a local example, Vancouver Police Chief, Jim Chu, announced that the department will be using body cameras but for a “…limited trial…” (Keller, 2014) (http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/vancouver-police-to-wear-body-cameras-for-dismantling-of-homeless-camp-1.2053804). Moreover, Chu said “we think body-worn video will prevent people from acting in a difficult or violent manner…people will behave better when they know they’re being recorded” (Keller, 2014). Chief Chu noted there is no decision whether the devices will be used in a wide-range with other patrol officers; however, it would definitely be a positive point to officers to continue wearing body cameras after the pilot project is over.

On the other hand, there are others who are skeptical about the use of this technology. Friedman (2014) reports that the costs of body cameras should be considered as they may cost from $800 to $1000 each along with monthly subscription fees for usage. Therefore, the costs need to be weighed, especially since many police departments have thousands of officers working in patrol sections. Also the wearing of police body cameras “…could turn every officer into a mobile, closed-circuit camera…,” and with peoples movements being recorded, people may refrain from calling the police in order to not be recorded (Friedman, 2014). Another cost mentioned is police testimony against defendants may be reduced due to the footage of the officer’s events (Friedman, 2014). Body cameras do reduce altercations between officers and citizens however, in Friedman (2014), Criminologist Barak Ariel states it is “unclear whether the cameras had a deterrent effect on the police, the public, or both, and those effects interacted with one another” (Friedman, 2014). I believe police body cameras should be put into effect and be used widely by all patrol officers. It will help in all types of situations as long as clear policies are made where officers have to follow firm guidelines to ensure that they are recording when the need to. Every single situation may not be resolved but the chances of accurate reporting are much higher when there is video footage recorded. Despite the fact these devices may be costly, police departments will be saving money by having their cases resolved in a timely manner when it comes to the courts and or complaints against the police. Video footage would reduce the chances of false reports and false complaints which would waste resources used on investigating if there was no video footage available. Overall, despite the issues that may result from body cameras, I believe a policy should be implemented that requires patrol officers to wear body cameras during their shift. Also, the camera should be turned on when the officer is dealing with a citizen because anything can happen and all encounters should be recorded.

References

Friedman, U. (2014, December 3). Do Police Body Cameras Actually Work? Retrieved February 3, 2015, from http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/12/do-police-body-cameras-work-ferguson/383323/

Keller, J. The Canadian Press. (2014, October 14). Vancouver police to wear body cameras for dismantling of homeless camp. Retrieved February 3, 2015, from http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/vancouver-police-to-wear-body-cameras-for-dismantling-of-homeless-camp-1.2053804

Li, S. (2014, August 25). The Big Picture: How Do Police Body Cameras Work? Retrieved February 3, 2015, from http://www.thewire.com/national/2014/08/how-do-police-body-camera-work/378940/

Lopez, G. (2015, January 13). Why police should wear body cameras and why they shouldn’t. Retrieved February 3, 2015, from http://www.vox.com/2014/9/17/6113045/police-worn-body-cameras-explained

Quan, D. (2015, January 8). As police adopt body cams, question emerges: when to press record? Retrieved February 3, 2015, from http://o.canada.com/news/national/as-police-adopt-body-cams-question-emerges-when-to-press-record

Scott, I. (2013, October 10). Ways to improve Ontario’s SIU. The Star. Retrieved February 2, 2015, from http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2013/10/10/ways_to_improve_ontarios_siu.html

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Comments
  1. Mike Larsen says:

    When the topic of video recordings of police activities arises, it is commonplace to hear concerns about video manipulation, photoshopping, and hacking. I would be interested to see a case study demonstrating that such manipulation actually takes place. In my experience, the major problems with videos of this nature is that they are often partial or of poor quality.

    You note that “ Police accountability is on the rise and has increased due to incidents such as the Toronto G20 incident where the violent takedown arrest of Adam Nobody was caught on video camera.”

    What do you mean when you say that police accountability is on the rise? Do you mean that it is increasingly a topic of debate and concern, or that accountability is actually becoming more robust?

    Can you think of any downsides to having all encounters between the public and police recorded?