Why Police Officers Should Be Equipped with Body Cameras:
Ferguson shows us now is the time to embrace a win-win solution for both police officers and community activists.
On Aug. 9, 2014, America once again faced a racial conflict when Michael Brown, a black teenager, was fatally shot by Officer Darren Wilson, a white policeman. Immediately, two polarized opinions of what happened emerged, and proponents advocated for their respective view across all forms of media. Advocates of Michael Brown argued that Officer Wilson profiled the black teenager and used an unnecessary level of force. This sentiment was heightened in light of the fact Brown was unarmed, and some witnesses claim his hands were raised. However, defenders of the police officer argue how Brown robbed a convenient store immediately prior, and Officer Wilson acted entirely in self-defense against a violent threat. The breakdown of these sentiments falls largely along racial lines.
On November 24, a grand jury chose not to indict Darren Wilson for his murder due to insufficient evidence and the testimonies of eyewitnesses. The two polarized opinions once again brought the city of Ferguson into a shadow of chaos. The past 24 hours have seen protests, some peaceful and some violent, all over the world. We saw looting, rioting, and buildings set ablaze. The American people on both sides feel a combination of outrage, frustration, resentment, grief, and unease. This energy and emotion needs to be channeled to garner real change. Action must be taken immediately to heal some of these sentimental wounds exacerbated by the nature of this conflict.
The interesting thing is that although every American is so emotionally and morally invested in this case, no one besides Brown and Wilson know how the events of that hot summer afternoon actually transpired. Proponents on both sides cite witnesses corroborating their respective accounts of what happened. Sadly, these events never seem to have substantial, tangible evidence to offer clarity to the American people.
Ultimately, that is why I advocate to the American people and to policy makers to embrace police body cameras. This is a solution that prevents the conflict like we have witnessed these past few days. It offers assurance for stakeholders’ concerns on both sides of this national, polarized debate.
Evidently, when officers know they are being recorded, they are much more likely to obey proper protocol. Body cameras offer transparency, as they provide clear evidence of whether proper police protocol was followed. As a result of video footage, it is easier to indict abusive officers and hold them accountable. It can further be a tool to help soothe tense situations when conflict erupts between officers and civilians by encouraging all parties to exude proper behavior.
African-American groups and other activists in the community like the ACLU have never had a problem with body cameras. Most of the resistance to such a policy comes from police advocates. They argue how such technology is invasive and infringes on both privacy and an officer’s ability to carry out his or her job effectively. For example, Ed Mullins of the NYPD sergeants union claims it could hamper the day-to-day tasks of policemen.
However, those fears are entirely unfounded. The purpose of body cameras is not always to protect citizens from law enforcement abuses of power, but also to protect those police officers themselves. To those holding the view that Officer Wilson acted appropriately, body camera footage could have been the necessary evidence to exonerate this man with a moral character that has been extraordinarily tarnished beyond repair. If you are so confident he did nothing wrong, wouldn’t this be a way to dispel all rumors circulating that he acted inappropriately?
Police body cameras have been used abroad in places like the UK. We have begun to see some more application in the United States in recent years, but the push for this technology has not gathered much momentum. However, in cases where they have been implemented, evidence suggests that body cameras have been extremely successful. Look no further than outside of Los Angeles to the city of Rialto, a predominately Hispanic and African-American community. According to an empirical analysis, public complaints fell by 88%, and use of force by police officers fell by 60%. This offers promising evidence of the effectiveness and impact of body cameras.
Overall, advocates for Officer Wilson and Michael Brown should both rally their support for police body camera initiatives. More research is needed to fully understand the efficacy of this method, but they currently manifest themselves to be a true win-win solution that all stakeholders can bolster. For when they can reveal abuse and criminal practices of an officer, they can also be used to vindicate an innocent officer from false accusations.