Are the ‘new’ body cameras really going to solve police accountability? Or lead to more problems?
We must first begin with understanding cameras without even mentioning police officers. There are cameras in grocery stores, big malls, parking lots, streets, offices, and many other public facilities, but what it really comes down to is; does that really stop crime from happening? No! Crime is still there, people will still steal from malls, or rob cars in parking lots. Having a camera there will not change the outcome of an individual’s actus reas when their mind has already made up the decision to commit a crime. The only thing that really changes is a criminal’s way to go about the criminal activity without getting caught. Now I’m not saying having those cameras there are useless; they do provide safety, and protection for the public, and the police. The point here is that they do not stop crime from happening; it is still there regardless. Really the only difference is now one can visibly see someone stealing or committing a criminal act. The whole point of having police officers is to create a safe community. When we look at measuring safety we look at the dimensions of victim harm, and the rate of crime. To me personally if an individual’s mens rea is there, then really a camera won’t change the outcome of the act. A perfect example to really show what I am trying to get at is the ‘Stanford Prison Experiment’. This experiment had normal healthy young males who prior did not have any record of deviance, be either a guard or a prison inmate at random. Now clearly, the prisoners knew there were cameras, or at least were being watched, while the guards also knew there were cameras. That did not stop them from treating inmates inhumanly. What this means is even ‘real’ police officers will still be corrupt if that is truly where their mindset is. They will just be more careful. We can even hypothesis that new types of corruption can be created from this, like for example ‘accidently’ deleting recordings or a camera ‘breaking’ and so forth. The blue wall can also come into effect here, where there can be chances of officers covering for other officers, even with the no deleting recordings policy. Corruption exists in many ways, and those who try to get away with deception, usually find a way around the system. It has happened in the past, and can very well do so in the future.
This video shows exactly how corruption can still exist even with body cameras
The publics uproar about police accountability is really only based on three main cases, Ian Tomlinson, Robert Dziekanski, and Ferguson; two of which did not even occur in Canada. Yes, I do agree justice should be done, but that does not mean every Police officer in Canada should have their privacy invaded. If we zoom into the Dziekanski case, maybe better cameras should have been in the airport instead of blaming the whole police community of the acts of a few correction officers. The rotten apples should not spoil the rest of the barrel by making them undergo a big economical system change. Would anyone like to be on camera throughout his or her whole shift, especially for a 12-hour shift (common hours for police officers). Would a secretary at work like being filmed they’re whole shift, or would teachers like having their classroom being recorded all day. I would assume no they would not, but yet workplace, and classroom incidents are also common situations where body figures misuse their authority in Canada (Moulden et al, 2010).
Coming back to cameras, companies like Axon, and VieVu have already started making products for this new police equipment. According to the TASER’s website the ‘Axon’ body camera is designed to record easily in a wide-angle view while being light weight, and show clear footage (TASER, 2014). The police officer would wear it on their uniform and anytime they would be interaction with a civilian they would simply slide the camera lens off. Once the interaction was over they would slide the lens cover back on. They conclude with showing that the rate of complaints have fallen 87.5%. What I would like the reader to note here is that the study they show here is in only one agency of Rialto, CA which it directly says is a small town. Why have they not shown a study of a big town? We must be critical and note why there are no other agency studies posted on their website? Is it because the other ones do not show improvement? Or did they simply only take the agency that showed to have the most improvement compared to any other agency. By doing this it automatically show improvement because they are ‘marketing’; this means that they are only showing what they want ‘buyers’ to see so they can make money. Another thing to note is the graphs they show fail to go in-depth about the range they are counting for complaints, and use of force. To the naked reader we have no idea what these numbers really mean. The cost for an average body camera is typically around $400. This does not even include the chargers, docks and other gadgets that also would need to be bought. Once the camera has recorded material on it, it can then be charged into the dock where it automatically uploads to evidence.com. The material here can be accessed by police administrative bodies, and usually held for up to 180 days directed by TASER, unless it is in need for evidence. Recordings are able to be watched by the officers, but are not able to be deleted, or modified once they are uploaded. Additionally I would like to inform the reader that from all my research I was not able to find any information about new facilities that would have to open to store the recordings, or new workers that would have to be employed to manage the recordings. Articles just talk about the body cameras; people need to realize that money is not only going to be put into the cameras, but there will be money needed in other areas as well.
Body cameras having been first implemented in the U.S and have made their way to Canada now. Justice officials say that if the public has cameras, so should the police. The body cameras allow the officers to safely protect the public, while ensuring they’re own safety as well. Questions about officer reliability, and accountability are being answered after watching footage. Many civilians may not use force due to knowing it will all be filmed, and vice versa. The safety of both parties here can be potentially benefited. Police officers do not have to deal with as many lawsuits that also cost tax payer’s money. Also sometimes witnesses, or victims decide to later withdraw from a case, which can cause the case to have no evidence. With the cameras there will always be evidence for the court; this can be either good or bad depending on the victims life. Police may in fact come out on top after all the criticism that they have received throughout the years. Now the public will understand that the police officer could have been justified in they’re actions. In situations of police misconduct, the police would have full accountability in cases like these because even the courts would not be able to save them. The courts would never have to feel obliged to take a police officers report as the only evidence anymore, because now they would have footage.
Justice officials in New York claim that body cameras are economically beneficial in saving the city millions of dollars in lawsuits every year, which would in the end pay for all of the cameras themselves (Lopez, 2015). The world of technology is always evolving, and with the dash cams just not being able to cut it anymore; body cameras may prove to be effective on their own. In Goldsmith’s article, he establishes that phone cameras, and the media are apart of the police organization now. Police having they’re own body cameras have evolved from that. Goldsmith would say that the police too should have they’re own cameras so that they can prove what maybe the public ‘filmer’ failed to record. Most civilians only start to record once an event begins to get ‘interesting’. The police officers on the other hand would get the full footage, from beginning to end. He would claim that now accountability would go to whichever party is at true fault.
This is a beneficial way for police officers to prove they’re innocence.
Here is an video that allows viewers to see how Body Cameras are used and can be effective, and beneficial.
I would just like to conclude with one last thing, we live in a ‘democracy’. This means everyone should get the opportunity to see all of the pros and cons, and then decide if we as a community want and need the cameras, since it is affecting everyone’s privacy. If citizens, and police officers all think body cameras are necessary in today’s age, then by all means that is what should happen. I want to leave the reader thinking with one incident I once heard a retired police officer say, “A young female was about to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge…. I sat with her for two hours, and continued talking until she finally decided that life had a lot more for her…this saved her life”. I personally think if the police officer was wearing a camera the female would not have opened up as she did, and possibly the police officer may have not been able to say everything he had to as well. Not every situation should be on film, there’s times when having a camera can be invasive, and create more drama then it really needs to be. As the reader, really ask yourself is this what you would like to see in the next couple of years?
AXON. (2013, January 1). City of Rialto Case Study. Retrieved February 8, 2015. http://info.taser.com/rs/taser/images/CA_Rialto_PD_Case_Study.pdf
Lopez, G. (2015, January 13). Why police should wear body cameras — and why they shouldn’t. Retrieved February 08, 2015. http://www.vox.com/2014/9/17/6113045/police-worn-body-cameras-explained
Moulden, H. M., Firestone, P., Kingston, D. A., & Wexler, A. F. (2010). A Description of Sexual Offending Committed by Canadian Teachers. Journal Of Child Sexual Abuse, 19(4), 403-418.
Stroud, Matt. “The Big Problem With Police Body Cameras.” Bloomberg. 15 Jan. 2015. Web. 8 Feb. 2015. <http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-01-15/police-body-camera-policies-wont-work-if-cops-dont-turn-cameras-on>.