Police Body Cameras: Weighing the Benefits, Costs and Implications

Posted: February 12, 2015 by kritichopra25 in Uncategorized

What is a police body camera?
A body camera is basically a small device that is usually attached to the upper body of a police officer and they are mainly used to record their day-to-day police work.

What is the purpose of a body camera?
The central purpose of the body camera is the ability to hold police accountable for their actions and also protect cops who are falsely accused of wrongdoing. There are many cases that come into the Criminal Justice System where people are suing the cops for wrongdoing. This includes racial profiling, sexism, ageism and so on. There have been many cases where police officers have been accused of saying something inappropriate, touching someone inappropriately, or doing something inappropriate. In these cases the body cameras can really help in protecting the police from wrongful convictions.

The need for police officers to have body cameras:
With the growth of technology, the concept of ‘new visibility’ has given a rise. New visibility allows people to record/capture police doing their job or carrying out any misconduct. Popular mass media websites such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Vine have become very popular when it comes to sharing police misconduct. I recently came across a clip on my Facebook page where there is a private security officer using excessive force towards an individual at the SFU Formal. In this video, the story is very one sided as it displays how the person attending the party gets beat up by the security officer, however it fails to show why there was such excessive force used. It plainly portrays the private security officer as the offender. Similarly, there are many instances where the public record the public police officers on duty, and they usually start recording half way through the incident where the police officer start taking action. Most times videos like these end up on social media and make the police look like the “bad guys”. However, if the police wear body cameras they are able to produce solid evidence and will show the full context of what had occurred.

http://www.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=467568 (video)

VPD’s take on wearing body cameras
A great first step that the Vancouver police department has taken was by wearing body cameras for dismantling of homeless camp. Police Chief Jim Chu speaks to CTV news about how “the body cameras will protect police officers against unfounded allegations of abuse, insisting grainy cellphone videos that find way onto YouTube rarely tell the whole story.” This discourages frivolous lawsuits against the police.
In addition, Police Chief Jim Chu also says that the police department thinks that “body-worn video will prevent people from acting in a difficult or violent manner,” moreover they believe that “people will behave better when they know they’re being recorded.” This is very true because most people like to portray their best behaviour if they know the video can be shared/distributed with others in society which can potentially ruin their self-image.

Results of wearing body cameras:
TASER International, an American developer that manufactures devices such as ectoshock guns and body cameras to many police departments around the world. On the website the company advertises that “The number tell the story, TASER products save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce litigation.” They state that the suspect injury reduces by 60% when less-lethal weapons are deployed.” This implies the use of body- cameras making a big difference.

Cost of wearing a body camera:
As mentioned by the Daily News, the cost of the body cameras is very expensive, each body camera is estimated to cost about $399-599 (TASER International). In addition, the infrastructure to support the cameras-the wiring, software and video archive system have an additional cost attached to it. Last, there is also a big storage expense attached with body cameras. The cost for managing the volumes of footage they keep for months or years can run into millions of dollars. This can cost the city/province a significant amount of money and can lead to cuts on other sectors of policing (raise in salary for police officers). The Daily News also reports that “San Diego’s five-year contract with Taser for 1,000 cameras would cost $267,000 for the devices — but another $3.6 million for storage contracts, software licenses, maintenance, warranties and related equipment.”
Implications and downfalls of wearing a body camera:
As shown by the video at the start of the blog, there are some big CONS that come with wearing a body camera. First, body cameras can violate people’s privacy including both police and the normal civilians. It can create a “Big Brother” type of environment where there is always a thought in the back of the police officers head that their each and every action is being watched. Officers will have twice every single time before they take action which could affect the response time majorly. Second, body cameras can malfunction and when they do the society can believe that the incident has been dubbed. This can cause questions of likability issues to rise up as body-cameras are a big investment. Last, adopting body cameras by police is a complex process. It is important to consider as to who has the right to access this footage, how long will the footage will be held in the system and is it going to be used for training purposes and anything along those lines.
Who is using Body Cameras?
As reported by The Globe and Mail “about 800 Calgary police officers will affix tiny video cameras to their vests and fan out on the city’s icy streets, where they will usher in a new and somewhat uncertain era that could be described as point-of-view law enforcement.” Likewise, “in a growing number of British and American cities, including London and New York, which both launched trials this year. Calgary is the first large Canadian police service to make the move, but several other cities, including Toronto, Edmonton, Halifax and Montreal, are looking at testing or adopting the equipment.”

Work Cited:
Lopez, G. (2015, January 13). Why police should wear body cameras – and why they shouldn’t. Retrieved February 11, 2015, from http://www.vox.com/2014/9/17/6113045/police-worn-body-cameras-explained
Vancouver police to wear body cameras for dismantling of homeless camp. (n.d.). Retrieved February 11, 2015, from http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/vancouver-police-to-wear-body-cameras-for-dismantling-of-homeless-camp-1.2053804
New era of policing: Will the benefits of body-worn cameras outweigh the privacy issues? (n.d.). Retrieved February 11, 2015, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/new-era-of-policing-will-the-benefits-of-body-worn-cameras-outweigh-the-privacy-issues/article21698547/ http://www.wsj.com/articles/what-happens-when-police-officers-wear-body-cameras-1408320244
Police body cameras are cheap compared to cost of storing all that video. (n.d.). Retrieved February 11, 2015, from http://www.dailynews.com/government-and-politics/20150206/police-body-cameras-are-cheap-compared-to-cost-of-storing-all-that-video
AXON body on-officer video. (n.d.). Retrieved February 11, 2015, from http://www.taser.com/products/on-officer-video/axon-body-on-officer-video

  1. Mike Larsen says:

    You note that:

    “There are many cases that come into the Criminal Justice System where people are suing the cops for wrongdoing. This includes racial profiling, sexism, ageism and so on. There have been many cases where police officers have been accused of saying something inappropriate, touching someone inappropriately, or doing something inappropriate. In these cases the body cameras can really help in protecting the police from wrongful convictions.”

    It is interesting that you are framing this in terms of protecting police from wrongful convictions. While this is certainly possible, I wonder: are wrongful convictions and / or frivolous complaints targeting police officers a significant problem? What are the trends in this area? I would expect that, on average, body camera video would probably be more useful as a means of protecting members of the public from wrongful arrest / charges.

    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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