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

Posted: February 12, 2015 by jasprit12 in Uncategorized

The body camera which is also referred to as a third eye is a new kind of technology. It is a very small sized video camera that is used by police officers, athletes, and other people for adventurous activities (Ley, 2015). The main purpose of this equipment is that it is able to record everything in the direct vicinity of the person wearing the body camera since the cameras are mounted directly onto the individual. The body cameras are made to be attached to a police officer’s shoulder, collar, head, or glasses. They are magnetic and come with a mount which allows for them to securely attach the camera. The body cameras have been tested and are known to stay on even during the extreme situations an officer can find themselves in. The way that the body camera works is that it is powered by a battery pack which the police officers must also carry on themselves. The battery pack is connected to the camera by a thin wire, so therefore it must be turned on from the battery pack. The battery pack also carries a chip which records all of the data. The data containing all of the footage is then uploaded at the police station onto a computer. The system is secured and encrypted so that the data cannot be tampered with or destroyed. Usually the footage recorded on the body cameras is accessible by the police supervisor.

These cameras are initially meant to record video, however, they can also record audio, but only if that function is manually activated (Ley, 2015). The cost of the body camera is in the $500 range. But that cost only includes the camera itself. The docks which allow the data to be uploaded to a computer cost $55,000. The law enforcement agencies are able to purchase the body cameras from various companies which specialize in such equipment. One of the most popular companies which supply the body camera is known as Taser International. Some other companies include Axon and Vievu.

It is questionable whether body cameras will make any difference in the actions of police officers because the numerous police shooting and violent confrontations have similarly been recorded on cell phones, however that did not put an end to the occurrence of such incidents (Stastna, 2014). Police body cameras are supported by some people and opposed by others. To help us better understand the arguments from both sides, I found a newspaper article in the Las Vegas Sun which discusses the pros and cons of the body camera (Ley, 2015). The pros include that the body cameras can enhance transparency, they hold police and the public more accountable for their actions, they discourage frivolous lawsuits against police, and studies have shown people behave better when they know they are being watched. Some other reasons which support the body camera are that it allows for more evidence, there is a better time lapse, and it is synced with police interactions. On the other hand, the cons include that the body cameras have limited range and can malfunction, they can violate people’s privacy and create a “Big Brother” environment, they formalize policing and might discourage people from approaching officers, and anecdotal research suggests officers write more citations while wearing cameras. Furthermore, some other opposing arguments are that the police officers will have to police according to the book, which mean that they will have to discontinue the use of police discretion because if they do not follow the rules of the police force, they may be held accountable. However, the use of police discretion had been seen as a successful form of work, but now with the implementation of police body cameras, the police officers will not be able to maintain that same success rate.

Body cameras are used as a tool to provide officer safety and ensure that both the officers and the public are responsible for their actions. This is because the body camera can be used as a form of evidence by both parties as it does not offered a biased viewpoint. It provides nothing more than simply that which an eyewitness would observe. For example, with the help of a police body camera, the court can determine whether a statement is false or truthful. Essentially such cases in which matters have been questionable have led to the emergence of the police body camera. The courts have also shown to accept the footage received from body cameras as acceptable pieces of evidence. The implementation of the police body camera has also resulted in a significant drop in the number of complaints filed against the police, and the number of cases involving an excessive use of force by the police (Ley, 2015).

The police body camera is seen to be policing’s new visibility, instead of primary and secondary visibility. It is much better able to facilitate police accountability. The new technology allows for sousveillance, which is “the recording of activities (and interactions) by participants” (Goldsmith, 2010). The body camera also follows the viewer producer society because the camera is seen as the viewer and the producer is the chip within the battery pack and the dock. The recording then acts as a catalyst because it is an acceptable piece of evidence which can lead an investigation or lead to charges. Finally, I think that the police body cameras will take off since they are a supporting piece of equipment. They will only provide reliable forms of evidence and speed up the court process times. Although I believe that the body cameras are here to stay, I do think that due to the increasing change in technology, the body camera will become a much more discreet piece of equipment.

References

Goldsmith, A. (2010, June). Policing’s new visibility. British Journal of Criminology, 50, 914-

934.

Ley, A. (2015, February 9). How body cameras can change the game for police and public. Las

Vegas Sun. Retrieved from http://lasvegassun.com

RT America. (2013, December 4). Police body cameras in full effect [Video file]. Retrieved from

Stastna, K. (2014, December 5). Studies suggest body camera can reduce use of force and

complaints, but evidence not definitive. CBC News.

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Comments
  1. Mike Larsen says:

    This is an informative post. The breakdown of the various components of the technology and their associated costs is effective. You also provide an effective overview of the various risks and potential benefits associated with body camera policies. Note that the concern about formalization and the discontinuation of discretion should be qualified – police enjoy a great degree of legal discretion, and the law makes allowances for a wide range of responses to a given situation based on an officer’s perceptions and the application of a ‘reasonableness’ standard. Introducing cameras would certainly have an effect on behaviour, but it would not eliminate discretion entirely.

    Question: 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)?

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