Police Body Cameras and Police Accountability

Posted: February 25, 2015 by jarnelldosanjh92 in Uncategorized

Taser international, Vievu, and Vidcie are some of the many companies that are producing police body cameras. Police body cameras include two components. Firstly there is a button for the police officer to double tap so that the camera starts recording. Secondly there is a lipstick sized camera that attaches to any headgear or perhaps an officer’s collar using a secure magnetic mount. The body cameras Bievu sells have a slider that turns the camera on, and the camera is mounted on a police officer’s chest. The cameras are being used in a number of British and American cities, including London and New York. 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 and adopting the cameras. The police body camera is supposed to serve as a measure or a check against abusive powers of the police. It has been argued that these cameras will help protect the public from police deviance and as well as protect police officers from false accusations. Even though the body cams have the potential to reduce police deviance the cams are expensive; a single set costs between 200  to 1000 dollars (Vox, 2015). In New York City, a report from the city’s public advocate found that outfitting the entire police department with body cameras would cost $33 million.The battery life can last up to 12 hours. What led to the phenomenon of the police body cam was the Micheal Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. Proponents of this new technology have argued that such cameras could have prevented the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager shot by a white Ferguson officer, because law-enforcement officials would know there would be a visual record of their actions. The death of the 12-year-old Tamir Rice by Timothy Loehmann in Cleveland, and the strangulation of Eric Garner by Daniel Pantaleo in New York, have also ignited the debate of using police body cams as well. The proposal for outfitting police around the United States with body cameras has even been dubbed “the Michael Brown law.” Supporters say that the cameras will help boost transparency in officer interactions with the public. But their increasing use also raises questions about privacy.

Proponents of police body cameras include advocates for people with addictions and mental illness, as well as various civil-liberties organizations (Globe and Mail, 2014). They argue that body worn cameras will encourage transparency by making police officers more self aware about using force against vulnerable individuals. The White House has been a major proponent of police body cameras. Last year after the Micheal Brown incident in Ferguson, U.S president Bracket Obama asked Congress in December for 75 million dollars in grant money to help law enforcement agencies purchase more cameras. The President’s proposal would act as a broader community policing initiative designed to ease tensions between officers and citizens. The American Civil Liberties Union claim that the cameras have the potential to be a win-win situation. Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union explained that ” a lot of departments are finding that for every time they’re used to record an abusive officer, there are other times where they save an officer from a false accusation of abuse or unprofessional behavior” (Vox, 2015). BrickHouse Security, a company that manufactures the cameras conducted a survey that found that 72 percent of respondents support body cameras. Police Foundation Executive, Chief Tony Farrar, completed an extensive yearlong study to evaluate the effect of body-worn video cameras on police use-of-force. Cameras were deployed to all patrol officers in the Rialto, California Police Department. Every police patrol shift during the 12-month period was assigned to experimental or control conditions. Wearing cameras was associated with dramatic reductions in use-of-force and complaints against officers. The authors concluded that “the findings suggest more than a 50% reduction in the total number of incidents of use-of-force compared to control-conditions” (Police Foundation, 2013), and nearly ten times more citizens’ complaints in the 12-months prior to the experiment. Ed Mullins, a sergeant in the New York City Police Department and president of the NYPD Sergeants union, is skeptical about body cameras. Mullins is worried that recordings from body cameras could harm an officer’s day-to-day work. For example a confidential informant could be reluctant to talk to a cop who’s wearing a body camera. That could make it harder for police to track down a suspect . Sergeant Mullins adds that the cameras could be used to go after police for petty or political problems. For example, an officer could end up getting in trouble for a dirty joke with his partner that was caught on camera. Mullins further explains that the cameras post a privacy issue; people could have an issue with having their every move recorded simply because a police officer is around, even in a public setting.The privacy concerns may further intensify if an officer comes into a person’s home, where the recording could present a clear violation of someone’s right to privacy on private property. My opinion of the body cams is that I support the use of body cameras, but I am weary of privacy concerns, and who has control over the recordings. My reasons for supporting the body cameras specify that if there is a recording of an event then there will be a clear account of that event, thus protecting an officer from false accusations. I believe that the cameras will make officers behave more professionally on duty. If an officer’s actions are being recorded and if those actions involve misconduct there will be clear visual evidence. Body cameras will force police officers to become more self aware about using excessive force against individuals like the mentally handicapped and drug addicts. Another positive about the body cameras is that they could be used as a evidence collecting tool as well. These cameras perhaps raise some issues. The cameras are very expensive, the price of body cams can range from $200 to $1000. If there is a policy of a continuous recording throughout a police officer’s shift, can the police officer’s record in a citizen’s home or do they have to turn their cameras off once they enter a person’s house? If the recordings are kept by the police can the police alter the footage, and how long can the police keep the footage?


New era of policing: Will the benefits of body-worn cameras outweigh the privacy issues?(2014, November 21). Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/new-era-of-policing-will-the-benefits-of-body-worn-cameras-outweigh-the-privacy-issues/article21698547/

Police Body-Mounted Cameras: With Right Policies in Place, a Win For All. (2013, October 9). Retrieved from https://www.aclu.org/technology-and-liberty/police-body-mounted-cameras-right-policies-place-win-all

Self-awareness to being watched and socially-desirable behavior: A field experiment on the effect of body-worn cameras on police use-of-force. (2013, January 1). Retrieved from http://www.policefoundation.org/content/body-worn-camera

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

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

  1. Mike Larsen says:

    You suggest that the shooting of Michael Brown ‘led to the phenomenon of the police body cam’. Is this correct? Certainly, the response to the death of Michael Brown has intensified the call for police organizations to adopt body cameras, but the technology was around – and in use – prior to this.

    You pose some interesting questions in your analysis. Regarding the issue of informants, I doubt that any police force with a body camera policy will require officers to use body cameras in a way that negatively impacts their meetings with informants. Police organizations already have detailed informant handling policies, and I expect that exceptions be made to body camera policies to accommodate this.

    Question: Assume that a police force adopts body cameras and they become, over several years, an everyday part of patrol policing. As you note, one of the features of body cameras is that they can provide evidence regarding the details of a police-citizen encounter. Do you think that courts will come to expect and / or rely upon body cam recordings as the authoritative account of an encounter? Will we begin to see a body camera version of the so-called ‘CSI Effect’?